ROCKPORT, Maine — When Eliot Grigo, a junior, walks down the halls of Camden Hills Regional High School, his classmates always ask him, “That wind turbine thing, is that happening?”
“Now we have an answer,” Grigo said as he stood under the spinning blades of a 155-foot-tall wind turbine next to the school’s track.
The turbine started producing energy last Thursday.
“In the first week of operation, it produced over 3,000 kilowatt-hours of energy. In perspective, that’s what six households would use in a month,” said Chelsea Hunter, a junior at the high school.
Hunter and Grigo are both part of the WindPlanners, a group of students who had the goal of bringing the Northwind 100 tower to their campus. It took eight years for the group to conduct the research, get school board permission, get town permits and raise the $500,000 needed to erect the turbine, which they did last week.
Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen lives within a mile of the high school and popped by to congratulate the students during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday.
“I live on Cross Street. I’m here to stand in the glory of the silence of this machine,” he said. “When I was walking my dogs this morning, I saw the turbine through the trees. … This is a model for the future of Maine. This is truly remarkable.”
Bowen was particularly impressed that the WindPlanners were able to do it with the constant turnover of students graduating and new ones coming in.
In total, about 100 students contributed time to the project over the years.
“Even I can’t imagine doing this,” he said.
That’s what a lot of people in the community are saying, it seems.
“We have a new turbine in midcoast Maine. The big ones on Vinalhaven now don’t feel so lonely,” said Suzanne MacDonald, the community energy director for the nonprofit Island Institute based in Rockland. “This project has helped renew conversations in communities where energy is such an issue. People are saying, ‘how did these teenagers do something my community has been working on for years?’”
Islands have some of the highest energy costs in the nation, she said.
MacDonald warned the students that a lot of islanders plan to stop by and look at the turbine. Some have already.
“What better place to have a turbine but at a public school? People have been coming by all week to see — is it noisy? Is it obtrusive?” said the WindPlanners’ adviser, Margo Murphy, a teacher at the school.
About 300 people attended the ribbon cutting. The turbine’s blades swept the sky the whole time, silently. But a few times during the hourlong ceremony, the head of the machine turned and made a humming noise for about 15 seconds at a time.
Murphy and the WindPlanners recently started collecting data on how much energy the turbine is producing. That information will be available online for everyone to see, they said. The turbine likely will save the school about $18,000 in electricity costs this year, according to the WindPlanners — the school still will need to purchase electricity from other sources. All the data gathered will be integrated into the science curriculum at the school, Murphy said.
The WindPlanners have learned a lot already, Murphy said. They did scientific research, math, interviewed experts, gave testimony to Maine’s Legislature, wrote grants, held fundraisers, filed permits with the town and more.
“It’s pretty incredible. They always believed in it, 100 percent all the way through. They knew all along that this was possible. It was their dream,” said former high school teacher and former WindPlanners adviser Rob Lovell. “These students really believe they can change things.”