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May 15, 2002 1 min read
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The Windy Suburb

Residents of Plymouth, Minn., put a little wind into the sails of a local high school project during a community meeting last month, when they unanimously approved a proposal that would allow the 10,000-student Wayzata school district to erect a 200-foot wind turbine on the high school’s grounds.

The measure was scheduled to go before the City Council this week. If it passes, the district could begin construction on the Minneapolis area’s first urban wind turbine as early as this coming fall.

The idea of harnessing the wind dates to the building of the 3,000-student Wayzata High School, which opened in 1997.

“The area is very windy, and there were always construction problems due to the wind,” said district engineer Dan Carlson. “So we started to look for ways to use it to our advantage.”

Wind turbines are common in Minnesota, and the state is the nation’s second-largest producer of wind-based energy, but most turbines are constructed in rural areas. The proposed turbine’s location—in a suburban area just eight miles west of Minneapolis—makes the project unusual, said Mr. Carlson. Depending on the availability of parts, the turbine could be up and running in anywhere from six weeks to six months.

Upon approval, the district plans to erect a 1.5 megawatt unit capable of generating up to 1.5 million watts of electricity, enough to power 1,500 single-family houses.

Mr. Carlson noted, however, that the high school is located in what is considered a medium wind area, and initial studies have estimated that the turbine will produce power only 20 percent of the time if it runs 24 hours a day.

The turbine will still generate enough power to supply the high school or 300 single-family houses.

The power would be sold to the local electric company, and any profits would go to paying off the $1.5 million cost of building the turbine. Once that loan is repaid, Mr. Carlson said, the district could expect to make between $150,000 to $300,000 a year.

—Marianne D. Hurst

A version of this article appeared in the May 15, 2002 edition of Education Week

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