U’s energy future might lie with wind

Wind energy powers the Morris campus’s 54,000-square-foot student center.

Britt Johnsen

On the plains of the Midwest, the wind blows from many directions. The University might take a cue from the wind by taking a new direction to provide another energy source on campus.

Senior Brian Wachutka said at least two committees on campus are looking at ways to implement wind energy on campus, even though it faces some challenges.

Ecowatch, an on-campus environmental group, hopes to begin with residence halls and student unions, Wachutka said.

“I guess we’d like to start there because that’s the student realm,” he said. “There’s a lot of ownership over this effort.”

The University Senate’s Social Concerns Committee met Monday to approve a renewable energy resolution, which includes a wind energy program for the University.

Margaret Kuchenreuther, chairwoman of the committee, works on the Morris campus, where she said they have a successful wind program.

“If Morris can do it, why don’t we hear more from the Twin Cities campus?” she asked.

The committee will vote on the resolution this week. It could not vote Monday because at least 10 members had to be present, but there were only nine. All nine said they were in favor of the resolution.

Wachutka, treasurer of Ecowatch and member of the social concerns committee, said the Ecowatch project began April 4. Since then, it has collected at least 400 signatures on a petition for those interested in wind energy. Those signatures are

mostly from students and some faculty, he said, and most came from petitioning in residence halls and on the street.

Wind turbines collect wind energy, a renewable source of power. The wind turbine is connected to a grid, which distributes power. Ecowatch has been talking to Xcel Energy, one company that utilizes wind energy.

Wachutka said wind energy is “environmentally sound” because its source does not burn coal or create radioactive waste, such as other sources of energy that are commonly used.

Success

The University’s Morris campus implemented wind power on its campus two years ago.

Lowell Rasmussen, associate vice chancellor for physical plant and planning, said wind energy powers their 54,000-square-foot student center.

He said it was successfully implemented after a group of about 15 students piqued the interest of the 2,000-student campus, he said.

Rasmussen said the interest was a result of informational tabling and on-campus discussions.

With costs as much as 2.3 cents per kilowatt hour more than the energy they were using was costing them, money was an issue, he said. Morris’ administration challenged students to begin a conservation program, Rasmussen said.

By recycling, using low-pressure shower heads and keeping lights off, they conserved enough money to use wind energy.

He said they are looking into getting more programs that use wind energy.

“The campus is trying to increase the green energy programs and we’re looking for opportunities to do so,” he said.

The cost debate

Rasmussen said the Morris campus will “work on conservation programs to offset the cost of green energy.”

Costs are a main concern. Jennifer Rowe, communications specialist for Facilities Management, said it all “gets down to numbers” and the prospects of the University adopting a wind energy program are not likely.

“It doesn’t make fiscal sense for us to do,” she said.

She said when Macalester College looked at the fiscal matters of building a wind turbine, the energy department looked at the report. Rowe said according to the college’s figures, it would take at least 45 years to pay back the costs of building a wind turbine.

“We have a director of energy management who would love for that to happen,” Rowe said. “It’s too expensive.”

Sara Bergan, executive director of the Great Plains Institute for Sustainable Development, said she thinks wind energy is important because “it’s cost efficient, good for the local economy and is environmentally sound.”

But she said it is an underused resource. She said that while Minnesota uses wind energy for about 2 percent of total energy, places that are denser and more highly populated – such as Denmark – use 25 percent wind energy.

The Midwest has good resources because “the wind blows harder and stronger and more regularly in the plains,” she said. “There’s more land to develop agricultural resources.”

Although supporters said wind energy is beneficial and places in the Midwest are resourceful, costs are still a concern for some.

Jennifer Kuzma, associate director of the Center for Science, Technology and Public Policy at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, said while she is not arguing for either side, it is a tough time for budgets.

“It might pose some logistical problems for the University to switch and it’s a little bit more expensive but not much,” she said.

Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, said although cost is an issue, the cause is necessary to remember.

“You’re paying a price to show that you support wind energy.”

Kahn said she is a user and supporter of wind energy.

“I definitely think people should do it,” she said. “It is the least polluting energy that we have.”