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School site offers test of wind turbine

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

By the end of this year, Lowcountry Preparatory School will be home to a 1-kilowatt Zephyr Airdolphin wind turbine.

The 35-foot turbine will double as a science project for students at the school and an educational tool for the community, said J.C. Sutton, a Pawleys Island area resident and partner in Natural Energy, a wind energy consulting firm.

Natural Energy is paying for the turbine and installation, as well as up to two years of educational materials for the school’s environmental studies program.

“We really wanted to see how we could help the community first and use wind power as a learning tool to what the potentials are, rather than as a political issue,” Sutton said.

Natural Energy wanted to put up a turbine in the Pawleys Island area to prove onshore winds in South Carolina are strong enough to generate electricity and create interest in onshore wind energy. Officials with the company talked to several area groups before deciding to embark on the project with Lowcountry Prep.

“They asked if it could be a science project and the more we talked about it, the more we realized it truly is a science experiment,” Sutton said.

The project will add another layer to science lessons, and fits in with the school’s ongoing green initiatives, said Head of School Jonathan Alden.

“We’re in the process of doing an energy survey in the school and monitoring our electricity use,” he said. “This will be another way for us to do that.”

An online program will allow students to see how much electricity the turbine is generating. An anemometer will be erected at the school to provide information about wind speeds, so students can see how much wind it takes to generate a kilowatt.

Plans are for energy generated by the turbine to be put to good use. As part of the project, students at the school will determine what that use will be, but Sutton said it could be to power lighting in a specific area or a back-up security system.

A spot for the turbine hasn’t been selected, but “I want it to be as prominent as possible,” Alden said. “I think it’s neat and I want everybody to see what we’re doing.”

Interest in wind energy in the state has been primarily focused on offshore possibilities, Sutton said. He hopes this project will redirect some of that attention.

“We want to show people you don’t need to have a giant 6.5-megawatt turbine for a homeowner or business to reduce their monthly utility bills,” he said.

When folks see the turbine in action at Lowcountry Prep, Sutton said he anticipates they’ll want to know more and he hopes they’ll turn to Natural Energy. He’d like the company to be a resource for information about onshore wind energy, turbines and tax credits.

The potential for job creation resulting from onshore wind energy is significant, Sutton said. Onshore wind farms in Michigan created about 1,000 jobs there.

If the turbine is successful in generating electricity, Alden said, the board will look at installing a 5-kilowatt turbine, which they hope would eliminate the school’s monthly electric costs.

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