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Wind Plus Solar Equals Power and Learning for Native American Schools

PHOTO: Wind turbine installed at school in Wray, Colorado as part of the Wind for Schools Project. CREDIT: U.S. Department of Energy
PHOTO: Wind turbine installed at school in Wray, Colorado as part of the Wind for Schools Project. CREDIT: U.S. Department of Energy
December 14, 2012

PHOENIX – Three new wind turbines spin outside Leupp Schools on the Navajo Nation.

On the roof, more than 10 kilowatts of solar panels have been installed. The additions help power the school while stimulating classroom learning.

Karin Wadsack, director of the Arizona Wind for Schools program, says the projects introduce teachers and students to wind and solar energy, while helping to overcome resistance to renewable energy in the surrounding community.

"There's wind turbines going up at schools in rural areas where the community can learn about the wind turbine. They can learn what it does. They can support it because it's at their kids' school."

Leupp Schools is one of eight Native American schools in Arizona installing wind and solar systems, using money from a settlement agreement between the Grand Canyon Trust and the utilities that own the coal-fired Springerville Generating Station.

Moencopi Day School on the Hopi reservation near Tuba City is installing solar panels for its greenhouse.

Each spring, the greenhouse raises seedling tomato and chili plants that are sold to the community. The solar system will protect the plants from getting too hot or too cold, especially during power outages that occur frequently in that remote area.

Greenhouse manager Steven Lomadafkie says a side benefit is the opportunity to incorporate the greenhouse into classroom lessons.

"Along with the inverters and the batteries, there'll also be some collection of data, which could be used in the classroom...maybe things like the amount of energy on a sunny day versus a cloudy day, or even winter versus summer."

Lomadafkie says the greenhouse project will be an example to the community how solar energy could be the answer for isolated reservation homes that are miles from the nearest power line.

"It does work and we can demonstrate to the community that we don't really need electricity since we have all this sunlight out here. All it requires is just the first initial purchase of the panels and then after that, you just kind of sit back and let it pay itself off."

Wadsack says Wind for Schools supports the renewable energy projects by training teachers and providing classroom materials and hands-on learning experiences for students.

"The high school students, we did a lab where they went around campus and measured the wind speeds. They built anemometers and they measured the wind speed and did a mapping. And then the younger students also built anemometers and we worked with them in the classroom."

Wadsack also talks to students about potential careers in renewable energy, with jobs possibilities ranging from installers to environmental monitoring.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ