Two women inspired by a school assignment that blossomed into a 200-megawatt wind farm in Milford, Utah, have developed a training program to help people launch wind projects.
After hearing how shop teacher Andy Swapp and his eighth-grade students attracted the attention of a wind energy company with the wind potential data they collected from Andy’s farm, Sara Baldwin and Bonnie Christiansen started to wonder. If everyday people like Andy and his students can facilitate the development of a wind park with 97 turbines, maybe other people in Utah could too.
“We realized that we have great folks working on wind energy,” says Sara, a senior policy and regulatory associate of Utah Clean Energy, a nonprofit that focuses on building a clean energy economy. “But we needed to expand that group to reach more places across the state.” So Sara and her colleague Bonnie created the Utah Wind Outreach Training Course to give people the tools and knowledge to foster projects in their own communities.
“If we can educate more people in the community about wind resources, we could duplicate this success story,” Sara says.
The eight-hour class teaches participants about the benefits, myths and misconceptions of wind power and how to communicate with utility companies and local governments. The class tours existing wind projects — such as Three Peaks Elementary, in Enoch, Utah, and the Spanish Fork Wind Park — for hands-on experience.
The nonprofit’s three courses trained 32 “wind pioneers” last year. The diverse bunch included stay-at-home moms, biologists, electrical contractors and local government representatives. An associate dean of a local college and his 25-year-old daughter also took part.
Already supporters of wind energy, Steve Merrill and his daughter, Hillary, decided they wanted to learn more about the industry and how they could act as catalysts for wind development projects.
“The most valuable thing I got out of it was a confirmation that wind energy was really worthwhile for electric companies—and our country—to pursue,” Steve says. It can provide economic opportunity and reduce our carbon footprint, he adds.
While some graduates speak at community events and local government meetings, Steve and Hillary, much like Andy, decided to engage a younger crowd. Using PowerPoint presentations and their newfound knowledge, the duo taught Salt Lake City area middle school students about wind energy.
“It was gratifying to me that they were interested in ways to clean up the environment,” Steve says. “[Wind power] really does wind up being fascinating to school children.”
Another graduate took his training to the planning commission office in Box Elder County. He is assisting with a new wind rule that will make it easier for land owners to prop up turbines.
Dates have not been set for the next round of classes, but Sara and Bonnie would like last year’s participants to take over teaching duties.
“Utah Clean Energy continues to support the wind pioneers and steer them to targeted activities, not just train and leave them,” Bonnie says. “We want to foster their advocacy and education.”
The course is part of the nonprofit’s Utah Wind Power Campaign, which is sponsored by the Department of Energy and National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Wind Powering America Program and Patagonia.