Wind at St. Olaf

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St. Olaf got interested in wind energy when it became clear that  a major new science facility was coming. It would be nearly 200,000 GSF and total operating cost more than $1,000,000, not to mention the depreciation, both of which would impact the operating budget in a significant way.  The College is nominally 3,000 students, and there was no desire to grow, so a big new number hitting the operating budget had to be absorbed.

Every option was explored, including the academic program, and all sorts of innovation emerged.  The facilities group quickly realized that fully implementing the Sustainable Design Guidelines and  meeting the building’s electricity need with on-campus renewable generation would be the single biggest pieces of the puzzle.

Carleton was getting started with wind at the same time and the colleges briefly considered co-locating the turbines. St. Olaf ended up going for a self-generation plan, one in which the turbine was on the campus, and fed directly into the campus “grid.” In this way, the kilowatt hours (KWH) would be used on campus, and the cost of purchasing the same quantity was avoided. If we had opted to co-locate and sell the power, we would have to sign a long contract and get about $0.03/KWH. This worked for St. Olaf because of the nature of the electrical infrastructure. Carleton was configured differently and opted to sell their KWH. Both plans are wonderful, innovative, sustainable, and good stewardship.

The turbine is sized to be close to the campus minimum electric demand, so that few KWH would flow out to the utility. Some do each year and Xcel Energy does buy them at the $0.03/KWH. This only happens at night, and after air conditioning season, but many nights the turbine runs the entire campus.

Wind power came on line in September of 2006, and the new science building, Regents Hall, in September of 2008. All of the energy required for Regents is supplied by the machine, and it operates on 25% of the electricity predicted by early energy modeling. It is better than carbon neutral at 190,400 GSF. The LEED Platinum building achieved every LEED energy credit save one, for purchasing green power. The College made a tongue in cheek argument for getting the credit because it could not purchase green power – the building had no need.