Magazine article Techniques

A Green Campus Culture in Wisconsin: At a Wisconsin Technical College, Preserving the Environment Is Not Simply an Abstract Idea; It Is a School-Wide Initiative

Magazine article Techniques

A Green Campus Culture in Wisconsin: At a Wisconsin Technical College, Preserving the Environment Is Not Simply an Abstract Idea; It Is a School-Wide Initiative

Article excerpt

At Nicolet Area Technical College in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, environmental stewardship is more than just a program. One of the school's five strategic initiatives is the Natural Resources Initiative, which states: "Nicolet College will practice and work toward increasing district-wide environmental awareness, understanding and implementation of sound principles of sustainable living."

In 2003, Nicolet became the first of the state's 16 technical colleges to embrace a campus-wide focus on renewable energy. With grant monies from Wisconsin's Focus on Energy program, in cooperation with the Wisconsin Technical College System Foundation (WTCSF), the school installed two renewable energy systems--a wind turbine and two photovoltaic (PV) arrays, or solar electric panels. The wind turbine is on a 120-foot tower, and one of the solar panels is fixed in a southern direction, while the other one tracks the sun from dawn to dusk.

The systems, which transform solar and wind energy into electricity, power a 400-square-foot Renewable Energy Center that houses data-gathering equipment and interpretive displays. Both the arrays and the wind turbine are connected to Wisconsin Public Service's utility grid. The college, in turn, receives credit for the energy produced, according to renewable energy consultant Larry Krom of L & S Technical Associates, Inc. As a contractor for the Focus on Energy program, Krom helps administer and manage statewide renewable energy programs and has been involved in Nicolet's renewable energy project from the start.

"If the Renewable Energy Center consumes more energy than the wind turbine and photovoltaic arrays generate, the meter runs forward," explains Krom. "If more energy is produced than is consumed, the meter runs backward."

According to Nicolet President Adrian Lorbetske, the reason the college has worked to install and operate these devices is so that students, along with the general public, can become better educated about alternative energy options. That's why, notes Lorbetske, Nicolet has worked hard to integrate the use and study of the renewable energy systems into its curriculum. That education focus is also the driving force behind the frequent renewable energy learning tours and events held at the Renewable Energy Center on campus.

The PV arrays and wind turbine are just the beginning of a much bigger plan focused on modeling sustainability at Nicolet, according to Lorbetske. Eventually, the college hopes to feature an EcoVillage, complete with a model home and other structures, possibly incorporating recycled materials and using a wide array of construction and energy-efficiency techniques, including renewable energy technologies.

Education and Outreach

Aspects of Nicolet's renewable energy systems have been worked into college curricula, according to Jim Brown, vice president of instruction.

"Any college can talk about the issues surrounding renewable energy," Brown says. "By having systems on campus, students can actually analyze the data firsthand."

Nicolet's faculty is using the equipment for hands-on learning in their geography, chemistry, physics, computer science and English programs. Both the PV arrays and the wind turbine can provide multiple opportunities for study. For example, students may determine the performance advantages of a tracking PV array in comparison to one that is fixed. They might investigate performance characteristics of wind turbines in contrast to the PV arrays, or they might discover how energy production changes with fluctuations in weather. …

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