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Windmill generates knowledge at Shepherd

July 08, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- The 32-foot tower installed Wednesday on a one-eighth-acre lot on Shepherd University's East Campus across High Street from White Hall will do much more than generate a mere two kilowatts.

It's going to teach.

Ed Snyder, chairman of Shepherd's Institute of Environmental Studies, said the wind turbine "is for education and demonstration purposes. We know this is not an ideal location to teach students or bring in people from the community for demonstrations, but it's a small tower so people can see it without it being an eyesore. It blends into the campus."

The tower is the latest addition to Shepherd's Renewable Energy Demonstration Site, which occupies that small chunk of land.

Facilities built last year include an energy barn and a sustainable agriculture greenhouse. There's also the Veggie Van, an older GMC van powered by vegetable oil, said Clarissa Mathews, assistant professor in the environmental studies department.

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Photovoltaic cells on the roof of the barn, plus electricity generated by the wind turbine, make the demonstration site self-sustaining. It provides power to recharge the lawn mower, weed trimmer, and lights and fans for the greenhouse, Mathews said.

"It's an outdoor lab for hands-on applications," she said.

Last year, Shepherd launched a degree program in environmental sustainability. It teaches subjects like renewable energy, green building, and organic and sustainable agriculture.

Students from Maryland and Virginia enrolled in the course pay West Virginia tuition because it is not available in their home states, Mathews said.

Brothers Mike and Peter McKechnie own Mountain View Solar and Wind, the company that installed the tower. It's a division of Mountain View Builders LLC, The Green Builder, in Berkeley Springs, W.Va.

Mountain View Builders builds "green" houses as its main business. The brothers were inspired to add Mountain View Solar and Wind to expand into the renewable energy line after attending a conference on the subject at Shepherd four years ago, Mike McKechnie said.

"It created a second company for us, and it's doing well," he said. "We started it in January and have hired two full-time employees, even in this economic downturn."

In addition to wind turbines, the company installs solar electricity and hot water systems.

"We're providing clean, renewable energy in a coal-burning state," he said.

Wind generators for an average home can run $25,000, a hot water system $10,000 and solar electricity as much as $30,000, McKechnie said.

Generous federal and state tax incentives mitigate the costs, he said.

Mathews said if the systems are added to an existing home they can be cost-prohibitive, but if spread over a 30-year mortgage for new construction they can be affordable.

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