Feasibility of wind power to be tested
The city of Oberlin and Oberlin College took a joint step forward in pioneering green energy use at Monday’s city council meeting.
At the meeting, Oberlin College physics professor John Scofield and college junior Michael Roth presented to city council the plans they have been forming for 16 months for a project that will test the feasibility of generating electric power in Oberlin with wind turbines.
If the project proves that wind power is feasible in Oberlin, the College could potentially receive 100 percent of its electricity from wind turbines. “In addition,” said Roth, “even if wind turbines aren’t currently economical, due to the increasing price of other sources of electricity, they will likely become so in the very near future.”
In a letter to city council, Nancy Dye signaled her support of the project.
“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,” she wrote.
In his presentation, Scofield compared the proposed project to one that has already successfully taken place in Bowling Green, Ohio, where four commercial wind turbines have been erected. According to Scofield, Oberlin and Bowling Green share many similarities: geography, and the fact that both are college communities and are served by municipal power companies.
“If it was done in Bowling Green, why not Oberlin College?” Scofield asked.
At Monday’s city council meeting, Roth and Scofield requested from the city the nearly $13,000 they will need to run the feasibility study and received it by a unanimous vote.
The city will draw the money from its 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 Scofield’s and Roth’s project. Should the project one day lead to commercial wind turbines they would need to be connected to OMLPS’s grid. “We’ve met with Steve many times,” said Roth, “and he’s been really helpful.”
Environmental Studies Professors Katy Janda and John Petersen have leant their support as well.
The monitoring process, which Roth predicts will begin no later than fall break of 2005, will last at least one year. Since Roth plans to graduate in May 2006, he will compile a preliminary analysis using roughly the first six months of accumulated data. Roth said he hopes this analysis will be able to be compared with Bowling Green data to predict the feasibility of the wind turbines.
Scofield and Roth have identified four potential locations for the temporary tower, including the cornfield-covered corner of Butternut Ridge Road and North Professor, some open land near Splash Zone and the Jones Farm. The BFI Landfill, however, seems to be the site of greatest interest.
Roth said the BFI landfill would be ideal because of its existing electric infrastructure and its potential for wind tunneling.
“Being clear of trees will increase wind speed, and the fact that there is a significant change in topography compared to the rest of Oberlin makes it likely that there is an additional increase in wind speeds due to the channeling of wind,” said Roth. “We’re hoping this could even become a pilot study to suggest that landfills and wind turbines be used in combination in creating green energy.”
Roth said that he and Scofield plan to order the equipment needed for the study as soon as the next week.
The newly-received funds will purchase a temporary 50 meter tower to be used for monitoring purposes, weather sensors, software and other monitoring equipment.
“If the equipment comes in soon, I’m probably going to put it together,” said Roth. “It’s like a big Lego set.”
Based on Bowling Green data, Scofield and Roth predict that seven wind turbines would be required to power the entire college.
“We are hopeful that this study will demonstrate that commercial wind
power is viable in Oberlin today,” wrote Scofield in a letter to city
council. “This really moves us towards the 2020 goal of becoming climate
neutral in a way that no other simple project can accomplish.”