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University studies turbine feasibility

October 21, 2010

A study to explore if wind turbines are feasible for UW-River Falls is nearly half way complete, said Director of Facilities Management Mike Stifter.

Windations, a southern Minnesota company that specializes in small community wind projects is conducting the study.  The study, among other things, is looking into the wind resource availability, engineering and permitting requirements for the proposed site at the Mann Valley Laboratory Farm.  Located just north of River Falls along St. Croix County Road MM on approximately 475 acres, the lab farm is used for several courses within the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences.

The study is a collaborative effort with several energy companies involved, as well as the state and UW System.  If the study finds that wind turbines are efficient and the project is approved, then there could be two 1.5 megawatt turbines installed on top of a hill at the lab farm.  Once installed, which could occur in the next year to 18 months, the turbines would produce around 50 percent of the campus’ electrical demand, Stifter said.

The turbines would cost around $7.5 to $9 million and the money would most likely come from the state in the form of energy funds or the Capital budget, Stifter said.  The overhead cost of the turbines would be paid back after 15 years, Stifter said.  The typical life span of a wind turbine is 25 years, so for roughly ten years, UWRF, the state and UW System would profit from the surplus energy that would be produced and sold to an energy company, Stifter said.

That is if the state chooses to pay for the turbines.

If the Sate decides not to invest in utilities, then a third party utility company could fund the turbines, Stifter said.

The real fundamental question going forward will be who will own the turbines, Stifter said.

The study costs $39,000 and is funded by a Focus of Energy Grant, the Wisconsin Division of State Facilities and campus energy rebate dollars, Stifter said.

If the turbines prove to be a viable project, the next stage in the plan would likely be a series of “town hall” style meetings for the campus, community and township, Stifter said.

The study was initiated because of the commitment UWRF has to reach the goal of going “off-the-grid.”  In August 2006, Governor Jim Doyle issued a challenge to the UW System, known as his “off-the-grid” challenge.  In essence, the challenge called on three or four institutions to make a goal of reaching energy independence by 2012.  UW-Green Bay, UW-Oshkosh, UW-Stevens Point and UW-River Falls were chosen.

The state’s current definition of “off-the-grid” calls for a 30 percent reduction in energy use compared to the baseline year of 2005, as well as a 30%
participation rate in renewable energy credits and a 30% generation of renewable energy.  The remaining 10 percent can then be spread out between three other categories.

According to Stifter, UWRF is currently at about a 20 percent reduction in energy usage and actually leads the UW System schools in electrical energy usage based on btu/gsf. For renewable energy credit participation, UWRF is at about 40 percent.
In terms of renewable energy production, Stifter said there is currently no current production but the turbines could help UWRF reach the goal of 30 percent and maybe beyond.

For several years, UWRF has been forming committees and making plans to become more sustainable.  In early 2007, a strategic plan was created under the name Living the Promise.  Goal two of that plan is devoted to implementing and exploring sustainable practices.  UWRF then created a “watchdog” group, the University Planning Group, to oversee progress of the strategic plan.  Also in 2007, the St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development was created to deliberate and demonstrate sustainable community development principles.

Besides producing energy, the turbines could offer educational opportunities for the community and students taking courses pertaining to renewable energy at UWRF.

The turbines would blend in rather seamlessly at the lab farm because of their tall and slender structure, Stifter said.  After the initial construction, the land for the cattle, sheep and pigs would not be interrupted, said Stifter.

Front and center on the home page of UWRF’s website is an image of a wind turbine, a symbolic representation of the commitment to sustainability and renewable energy. As the study continues to work out the issues and logistics, wind turbines could potentially be a reality in the not so distant future.  Stifter explains how unique wind turbines would be for UWRF.

“Here is the potential to invest in a project that actually pays for itself in the life of the project. Most buildings keep on taking energy and never pay back,” Stifter said.  “Here is a project we could actually have tax payers invest in that makes money in time.”

Comments

Ben Ponkratz on 22 Oct 2010: Great work UWRF! The cost of the assessment sounds very high compared to the one we had done at UWEC. However, a 1.5 MW turbine is on a much different scale. I hope the state uses a long term perspective and decides to invest in the project. They've set a precedent for that type of investment by funding geothermal and biomass projects at UW-Oshkosh. I hope that they remain consistant. Can't wait to see the final report. Well done Mr. Stifter.