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Blowin' in the Wind: Study to Test Feasibility of Wind Power in Oberlin

Michael Roth '06

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 are positive.

"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 interest.

"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 green energy."

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."

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