At Cyprus High, learning about wind power is hands-on

Onsite turbine » Students discover how the natural resource can generate energy.
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On most days, the wind turbine that quietly spins in the breeze high above the north end of Cyprus High School's football field generates enough electricity to power two of the school's classrooms.

For science teacher Randy Isham, though, the electricity produced by the 2.5-kilowatt turbine with its 12-foot-diameter blades and the savings it provides the high school on its power bill are of only secondary importance.

What really matters is the opportunity the high school's students have to learn about wind power and how it can be used to generate energy. "It has been a great hands-on project," he said.

Two years ago, Isham heard that Rocky Mountain Power was offering grants through its Blue Sky program to the Utah Office of Education that would pay for two schools to develop renewable energy-technology projects.

Cyprus applied for funding, along with 20 other Utah schools.

"We found out in August that we were awarded the ($20,000) grant," Isham said. "I think we were picked because we had some pretty good wind potential in this part of the valley."

The wind-turbine tower's foundation was poured in August. The equipment showed up in October, and in the middle of November the students helped put the blades on the turbine and watched as a crane raised it into place, Isham said.

These days, students in Isham's science classes can tap on a computer keyboard and connect to a real-time data-monitoring system that tracks the turbine's daily, monthly and annual production output.

Renewable-energy technology has become part of Cyprus High's curriculum, said Steven Perschon, an assistant principal.

For example, Isham said students in his Physics With Technology class are required to design their own wind turbines, which makes the data from the on-campus turbine more relevant to their efforts.

"The turbine provides more than energy production for the school," said Bonnie Christiansen, outreach coordinator for Utah Clean Energy, which worked with the Utah Energy Program and the Granite School District to bring the project together. "It also gives the students the opportunity to do something good for their community."

Christiansen's nonprofit renewable-energy advocacy group estimates that if the wind blows an average of 8 mph, the Cyprus turbine will produce roughly 100 kilowatt-hours of energy per month. If the average wind speed is 14.5 mph, the energy output will be roughly 500 kilowatt-hours per month.

Electricity produced by the turbine is sent directly into the Cyprus High's electrical system.

Through a process known as net metering, any excess electricity produced and not used by the school can be fed back onto the area's electrical grid, said Rocky Mountain Power spokesman Jeff Hymas.

The utility then will provide a credit for the electricity on the school's power bill.

Hymas noted that funding for the Cyprus project was awarded to the state Office of Education in 2007. "It probably took them (the state) awhile after that to determine what projects they wanted to see go forward."

Last year, Rocky Mountain Power awarded $952,000 in funding for 19 projects in Utah, Idaho and Wyoming, Hymas said. That included funding for a "20-kilowatt, low-impact" hydro project in Ogden and a 20-kilowatt solar project at Milford High School in Beaver County.