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Cedar City school gets an A in renewable energy

Published March 28, 2009 4:00 pm

Above, below» Turbine grabs wind, wells harness heat.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Enter Three Peaks Elementary and you'll get a hands-on education not only in the three R's but also in RE -- renewable energy.

Built three years ago atop geothermal wells that provide the heating and air conditioning, the Cedar City school now has a 45-foot-tall wind turbine -- a real-life laboratory for math and science lessons.

"We feel like we have the most energy-efficient green school in the state," said Principal Tim Taylor, "and maybe the nation."

Erected through a $27,000 grant from Rocky Mountain Power, the turbine project began when science teacher Clayton Carter arranged workshops for teachers, who learned how to build miniature wind turbines with paper, Popsicle sticks and CDs serving as blades.

Intrigued, they turned to the nonprofit Utah Clean Energy, whose staffers helped write a grant proposal for the utility's program that last year handed out nearly $900,000 in green-energy aid to schools, governments and nonprofit organizations.

Three Peaks is an example of the type of endeavor Rocky Mountain Power again is looking to fund this year: small projects that will generate less than 10 megawatts of energy. Preference goes to community-based efforts that not only create electricity but also lead to broad understanding of the science through research and investment in new-generation projects, officials say.

Sara Baldwin, spokeswoman for Salt Lake City-based Utah Clean Energy, said her group and the state Energy Program will assist with general questions. But successful grant applications most likely will show a plan that already has been put out to bid to potential contractors.

The projects don't have to be "shovel-ready," she said, but must be completed within two years. Applications are due by May 15.

Three Peaks' $27,000 grant was part of the $872,824 Rocky Mountain Power awarded to 15 projects in its Utah, Idaho and Wyoming service area. The money comes from Blue Sky purchases, a program in which customers pay a bit more for the utility's wind power.

"Those of us who are paying a little more on our electricity bills," Baldwin said, "are helping these projects come to life."

Greg Sanders, who coordinates career and technical education for the Iron County School District, said educator-leaders there already were committed enough to alternative energy to incorporate into the school's design 14 wells dug 300 feet under the playground to harness the Earth's natural temperatures.

This isn't the geothermal heat that taps volcanic energy bubbling up through hot springs. Rather, it's a "geo-exchange" that uses piped refrigerant, pumps and compressors to move naturally warm and cool air into buildings.

That innovation helped the school slash its heating and cooling costs, to 72 cents per square foot, compared with Parowan Elementary, an older school farther north with a coal-fired boiler that costs $1.40 per square foot, Taylor said.

So Three Peaks doesn't have to use fuel for its heating, ventilation or air conditioning. With the new wind turbine, the school expects to defray 20 percent of its power costs.

Integrating solar, wind and geothermal energy makes sense, considering the commitments of Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and President Barack Obama to green energy, Sanders said. Education and training on the technology mean "there's the possibility of lots of jobs."

Three Peaks pupils "have been so enthusiastic about the project every step of the way," Taylor said. The recent ribbon-cutting for the wind turbine drew a considerable crowd, including a student contingent from Milford, where eighth-graders in 2003 installed a tower to measure the Milford Valley's potential for wind power, tipping off a wind company that has since built turbines now sending electricity to Southern California.

"The whole community is intrigued and fascinated with it," Taylor said. "The PTA, the parents, the kids are having a great time with it. It's not just something you have in a book. It brought everybody together in the whole county in common purpose and celebration."

Blue Sky grants

Rocky Mountain Power is accepting grant proposals for wind, solar, biomass, wave, landfill gas and low-impact hydro and geothermal power projects and research.

The projects must be locally owned and produce less than 10 megawatts of power that demonstrate significant community benefits.

Projects must be completed within two years of funding. The grant program isn't open to off-grid projects or to private individuals.

The grant-application deadline is May 15.

For specific information on the grant requirements:

http://www.rockymountainpower.net//Article/Article72035.html" Target="_BLANK">http://www.rockymountainpower.net//Article/Article72035.html

For general information and questions:

http://www.utahcleanenergy.org" Target="_BLANK">http://www.utahcleanenergy.org

http://geology.utah.gov/sep" Target="_BLANK">http://geology.utah.gov/sep