ROCKPORT, Maine — After seven years of research, fundraising and giving presentations, the Camden Hills Regional High School student group Windplanners has been given the go-ahead from the town of Rockport to erect a 155-foot wind turbine on school grounds.
“We’re finally getting it,” said 18-year-old senior Anna Grigo. “It’s a dream come true for a lot of us.”
Groundbreaking for the wind turbine, which will be located near the school’s track field, could happen as early as next month. Students already have made a down payment and raised all but $60,000 of the $510,000 they need to buy the Northwind 100 tower and turbine and have the equipment installed.
Scott Bickford, the Rockport code enforcement officer, presented a bright green building permit and several copies to a few of the jittery, excited teenagers Wednesday morning in the school’s library.
“It’s so awesome words can’t describe it. We worked so hard for this,” said Lila Moore, a 17-year-old senior, after Wednesday’s presentation. “It was all talk, now we’re actually doing things.”
According to Keith Rose, facilities director of the Five Town CSD and SAD 28, the turbine will produce 12 to 15 percent of the school’s electricity each year, which should save the school about $20,000 annually.
At a school board meeting last May during which members unanimously approved the project, Rose acknowledged that it isn’t tremendously windy where the school is located. But he said, “It’s good enough to spend the money, and over the life of the machine we will see around a half a million dollars in savings. That’s nothing to sneeze at.”
At that same school board meeting, two local residents announced their opposition to the turbine, saying it was too big, that it likely won’t work and that a smaller turbine would do the job better.
Members of the Windplanners explained during that meeting that when they started fundraising about three years ago, donations were accepted with the stipulation that the wind turbine would be a Northwind 100 and that it would be located on school property. Any attempt to change the project thus would require returning the donations back and starting all over, they said.
Grigo and her crew have heard no opposition since.“The community is behind it,” she said. “That unanimous vote from the school board helped.”
Rose said Wednesday that the school can break ground on the project next month if local contractors donate time and materials to start foundation work.
Rockport’s planner, Tom Ford, said he received the students’ building application near the end of November.
The Northwind 100 “isn’t the Vinalhaven model by any means,” Ford said, referring to controversy over the island’s 389-foot turbines that have some residents complaining about noise levels and glare from the blades.
The Northwind 100 is 155 feet tall.
Bickford, the code enforcement officer, said students were careful about addressing any concerns about light flicker off the turbine blades and about noise.
“They’ve done their research,” Bickford said. “I don’t expect problems others have had, and I’m not worried about the abutters.”
Camden Hills Regional High School Principal Nick Ithomitis attended the ceremony where the students received the building permit. The Windplanners members have changed over the years as some students graduated and new ones joined. But this year’s group of students, he said, was assertive in moving forward with the project.
“They wouldn’t let it go. They’re like a dog with a bone,” he said.
The result, he said, was what he’d hoped for: “They learned a lot about themselves and what they are capable of.”
Margo Murphy, a science teacher who helps lead the 25-student group said once the turbine is up, there is more work to do. Future Windplanners will give community tours of the turbine, will closely monitor energy consumption and generation and will help raise awareness of the project within the community and bring the information to other schools, Murphy said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the students continue to work on raising the remaining $60,000 to pay for the wind turbine and installation.