Small wind case study: Technology education teacher puts the wind in his students' sails
The Milford High School graduating class of 2007 was no ordinary one. In past years most graduates of this 200-student, grade 7-12 school in Milford, Utah looked forward to working for the railroad or the local hog farm, the town’s two major industries. But at least three students from that graduating class wanted to do something that was unheard of in the past—they wanted to build wind turbines.
Andy Swapp is the driving force behind Milford High’s interest in renewable energy and wind power. As the technology education teacher, Swapp teaches his students about much more than computers and graphic design. He also teaches his students how to make their own energy. In his renewable energy class, Swapp teaches students how to choose the right site for a wind turbine, how to install a turbine, and how to calculate the monthly power output.
Developing a renewable energy curriculum
Swapp built the curriculum for his renewable energy class from scratch. When Swapp first moved back to his home state of Utah, his first encounter with the wind was less than favorable. Not long after buying a small farm and plowing his field for the first time, the wind blew so hard it picked up the topsoil and sandblasted the side of his barn. He was very upset at the time, angry with the wind for causing him so much trouble. That was his first encounter with the great wind resource just waiting to be tapped in western Utah.
After only a few years living back in Utah and two years teaching technology education, Swapp’s interest in renewable energy prompted him to attend a wind power seminar. He applied for and won an anemometer, or wind monitoring device, for his farm. During installation of that first anemometer, he brought his 8th grade technology students to help erect the new device. That was back in 2003. That first trip to the farm gave his 8th-grade students their first look at the great wind resource right in their backyards.
“We used the Pythagorean theorem to square out anchor points. The guy wire was the hypotenuse. It was math in action,” says Swapp. “It was a fantastic teaching tool to reinforce science and math. The kids will never forget it.”
Building & testing turbines at high school
One year later, Swapp put up his first turbine, at the local high school, with a $2,000 donation. He bought the Whisper 100 (900 W) turbine from Southwest Windpower along with a classroom model of the AIR X (400 W) turbine. One year later, Swapp applied to be a beta tester for Southwest Windpower’s Skystream 3.7 turbine (1,800 W).
Each new machine was a technology adventure for Swapp’s students. Each time, Swapp challenged his students to calculate the expected power output of wind turbines. “The formula is similar to those taught in our math classes,” says Swapp. He challenged his students to work with their math teacher to figure out the new formula. “Guys are in the classroom at lunch figuring out equations. How many times does a math teacher have students pounding on the door?”
Over the years, as Swapp built the renewable energy curriculum from the ground up, the school administration and school board were fully supportive.
“They agreed it would be a great teaching tool,” says Swapp. “The principal has been very supportive in our efforts. He’s really been a champion for wind.”
Renewable energy curriculum spurs wind farm installation
Today, Swapp travels around Utah sharing his curriculum with other technology education teachers. And Swapp’s actions have brought notoriety to the school. “When a sports team takes state, the hallways become cleaner. Putting up the turbine was like taking the championship for some sport.”
This is a great story, and it gets better. Swapp and his students actually paved the way for utility-scale wind in their county. The resource data they collected attracted the attention of wind developer First Wind. First Wind installed a 306-megawatt Milford Wind Farm, which now brings economic development to the area.