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After 3 years, wind turbine going up on NWC campus

Three years after the idea started spinning in the imagination of a Northwest College professor, a wind turbine is going up on the college campus.

Astrid Northrup, an associate professor of engineering and mathematics and the chair of NWC’s Physical Sciences Division, said she is eager to see the turbine begin harnessing the wind to create power.

“It’s been a long haul, with lots of people involved, and I am so excited that it is finally coming together,” Northrup said earlier this summer.

The Park County Commission approved a special use permit on July 16, and the college is proceeding with design of the foundation and installation and working with Garland Light and Power to tie into the building’s electrical service.

The turbine will be located at the Agricultural Pavilion and will provide some power to the building. NWC will use the turbine for many instructional opportunities, Northrup said, including a computer monitoring station of the energy generated, and the performance will be compared to other wind turbines all over the region.

“NWC decided to put it at the Ag Pavilion because it is easier to permit in the county than in the city limits, but also because of the historic ties between agriculture and wind power, which I think is just cool,” Northrup said.

Biology instructor Eric Atkinson will monitor its effect on birds. The turbine will be placed on a concrete base, and three 12-foot fiberglass blades will spin atop a 45-foot pole.

Dave Plute, the head of NWC’s physical plant, said the turbine is at the campus in crates, and the college is awaiting a contractor’s price for the foundation before it is poured. Bar T Electric of Powell is serving as the electrical contractor.

EastGate Erectors in Cody will put the high-tech windmill in place, Plute said. Construction is now underway, and should be completed this fall, Northrup said.

In all, the project will cost about $25,000, according to NWC staffers, with $15,000 of that coming from a state grant.

When the wind turbine is placed on the NWC campus, it will mark the end of a winding tale that didn’t start with that as the goal, Northrup said.

“Back in the summer of 2010, I was asked to run a science camp for middle school students.The camp was paid for by a grant from NASA, and it was called the Summer of Innovation,” Northrup said. “There were, I think, two states that received the grant that summer, Wyoming and New Mexico. There were about seven camps in Wyoming, each serving approximately 50 students.”

She was the site coordinator for Powell, and three “highly qualified” teachers were hired to prepare the curriculum, she said. Three NWC student interns assisted the campers during the July camp, which utilized much of the campus, all at no cost to the students.

The Wyoming Department of Education wrote the grant, and the Wyoming SpaceGrant also played a role. Northrup is on the board of directors for the SpaceGrant.

Under the terms of the grant, each site had to have a non-profit partner to work with, and NWC teamed with the West Park Hospital District, and Park County School District No. 1 provided bus transportation for the field trips.

“In addition to our time at NWC, we had two extended field trips, one to Denver and the other was supposed to be to Cheyenne,” she said. “In Cheyenne, the grant had money to purchase about seven wind turbines that the campers were going to help install.

“This trip fell through due to some administrative details at the state level, so I took the kids to different science sites around our area: the coal-fired energy generating plant in Hardin, the coal mines and the Imaginarium in Gillette, Andy Rose’s wind turbines and solar panel installation on Heart Mountain, and the hydroelectric plant at Ralston, to name a few,” Northrup said. “So we did the science, but the grant still had money for the turbines and nowhere to put them!”

The state Department of Education kicked the money back to the sites, she said.

“Those of us who wanted to could piggyback the grant and request funding for a turbine of our own,” Northrup said. “So I did.”

The Skystream 3.7 turbine was manufactured by Southwest Windpower, a Flagstaff, Ariz., company that made more than 8,000 Skystreams which have been installed around the world since 2006. The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory assisted in designing the turbine.

Southwest Windpower called the turbine the “first compact, all-inclusive personal wind generator (with controls and inverter built in) designed to work in very low winds. It produces up to 400 kilowatt hours of clean electricity per month.”

Southwest Windpower abruptly closed in February, and the salesman NWC was working with lost his job, which delayed the process again, Northrup said. In the end, the college got a good price on the turbine, she said.

The turbine has been tied up in red tape for three years. Part of the delay was the dismantling of the West Park Hospital District non-profit office in Cody, part was finding the right turbine on our own, and part was finding the people to do the job.”

All that has been accomplished. Now, the turbine should be in place in about a month, and NWC will start producing, and learning about, electricity generated by wind power.

Most students who spend time at the turbine will do so for a variety of classes, Northrup said. Several classes may find uses for it, she said.

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