Can wind power replace Northeast Ohio's dependence on fossil
fuel as an energy source? Michael Roth '06 isn't sure,
but he'd like to find out. That's why Roth, an environmental
studies major, is working with Professor of Physics and Astronomy
John Scofield on a project that will test the feasibility of generating
electric power in Oberlin with wind turbines.
The project will include a wind turbine feasibility study similar
to one that has already successfully taken place in Bowling Green,
Ohio, where four commercial wind turbines were recently installed
to produce a significant amount of the city's energy.
"Bowling Green is a lot like Oberlin," Roth says. "The
topography is similar, the electric utility is community owned,
and the residents are supportive of green practices. So why not
see if something like this could happen in Oberlin?"
Before they can begin the study, Roth and Scofield will have to
purchase a 160-foot temporary tower as well as weather sensors,
computer software, and other monitoring equipment that will allow
them to measure local wind speeds. After collecting a year's
worth of data, they will be able to determine whether or not wind
power is a viable source of alternative energy for the city—and
for the College, which could potentially receive 100 percent of
its electricity from wind turbines if the study's results
"Oberlin College is very interested in exploring ways by
which we can reduce or even eliminate our use of fossil fuels," says
Oberlin College President Nancy S. Dye. "We believe that
this study will be important in establishing the viability of wind
power here. If it turns out that wind could provide efficient and
abundant power, the College would look forward to finding ways
that we might collaborate in creating a wind-power infrastructure."
Roth and Scofield recently received $13,000 from the City of Oberlin
to purchase equipment and run the feasibility study. The money
was drawn from the city's sustainable reserve fund, which originated
from an agreement with Oberlin College to sell green energy and
was created for the purpose of funding green energy projects within
the city. Steve Dupee, director of the city's municipal power company,
OMLPS, has leant his support to the project, calling it a "valuable
and worthwhile investment."
"I think this project fits well within the overall spirit
of the community," Dupee says. "Several years ago,
city council passed an ordinance that promised to make Oberlin
a more sustainable community. I see this project as an extension
of that ordinance and as a collaborative effort between the College
and the city that may bring a source of renewable energy to Oberlin."
Four potential locations have been identified for the temporary
tower, including the corner of Butternut Ridge Road and North Professor
Street, an open field east of Splash Zone, the George Jones Memorial
Farm on Rt. 511, and the BFI landfill. Each site boasts several
attractions, but the BFI landfill has so far generated the most
"The landfill has the highest elevation in town, which suggests
that there might be an increase in wind speeds at that location," says
Scofield. "Additionally, we're hoping that this model may
eventually become a way to rehabilitate landfills, that is, by
using commercial wind power and landfills in combination to create
Roth and Scofield will begin ordering materials for the feasibility
study this summer. Once the equipment arrives, they will assemble
the tower and begin monitoring local wind speeds.
"We should have everything up and running early next semester," Roth
says. "We'll be able to log wind-speed data by the end of
fall break at the very latest."
Roth will use the first six months of accumulated data to compile
a preliminary data analysis. This report, which will double as
his senior honors project, can then be compared to the data from
Bowling Green and used to predict the possibility of wind turbines
powering Oberlin's electric needs. After an additional six months,
Roth and Scofield will be able to finalize the analysis and submit
the results of the study to city council members in the form of
a business plan.
"The price of electricity production is constantly rising," says
Roth. "Even if wind turbines are not currently an economical
option for Oberlin, they will likely become so in the very near future.
And when that time comes, we'll have the wind data from this
study to prove that wind power is a viable energy alternative for
the city and College."