Could wind turbines power campus?

I wrote this story in the weeks prior to the 2008 KU Student Senate Election. Students of Liberty, a student senate coalition, wanted to build wind turbines on campus to provide a large percentage of the University’s power. This story was about the feasibility of that proposal.

Students of Liberty, a student coalition competing in this year’s Student Senate election, has revealed its platform regarding building enough wind turbines to power one-third of the University.

Eric Hyde, vice presidential candidate for Students of Liberty, said his coalition’s goal would help the University in becoming more environmentally conscious.

“There’s a green revolution happening right now all over the world,” Hyde said. “The University of Kansas ought to be a leader in this new trend.”

At last week’s Student Senate debate, Hyde cited Pratt Community College as an example of a campus that took on the same initiative.

According to Pratt Community College’s Web site, it completed three EW-50 wind turbines last December.

Kent Adams, vice president of finance and operations at Pratt Community College, said the three wind turbines provided about 465,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year, which powered about 25 percent of Pratt’s campus.

The project’s initial cost was about $565,000, but Adams said it saved the campus about $46,700 per year. In 12 years, Pratt Community College will have saved enough to make back its initial investment, he said.

One key difference between the University of Kansas and Pratt Community College is the amount of electricity each uses. Adams said Pratt Community College used an average of about 1,860,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year, which is about 1.7 percent of the 107.5 million kilowatt hours the Universit used last year, according to the KU facility operations annual report.

Each wind turbine costs $155,000, Adams said, and produced about 155,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year.

Adams said Students of Liberty’s plan was feasible, but expensive.

“It would be an awfully ambitious goal, but somewhere between 10 to 20 percent would strike me as pretty doable,” Adams said, referring to the how much of campus could be powered by the turbines.

William O’Donnell, marketing director at Entegrity Wind Systems, said the University had no way to predict how many wind turbines the University would need, how much the project would cost or how much the project could save without assessing the wind speed in Lawrence and the monthly amount the University pays for electricity.

O’Donnell said that a large number of turbines would likely be needed in order to save the University a noticeable amount of money, but he said he couldn’t predict the exact number unless his company performed a proper analysis of the University’s situation.

The biggest obstacle facing Students of Liberty would be getting the funding to pay the initial cost of the project, said Jeff Severin, director of the KU Center for Sustainability.

One of Students of Liberty’s biggest platforms is cutting student fees, which means that most, if not all of the funding, would have to come from the University itself.

“There would have to be a pretty major campaign to persuade the University to invest in something like that,” Severin said.

Hyde said that he was fully aware of the challenges facing his coalition in this initiative.

“One of the worst things you can have for ‘greening’ is politics mixed in with it,” Hyde said at last week’s Student Senate debate.

— Edited by Matt Hirschfeld

Published in the University Daily Kansan on March 31, 2008

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