Winter Workshop: The Power of Nature

Submitted by: Ali Dahmes, West Central YES! Coordinator

On March 8th, 2017, 14 students and 3 adults from Youth Energy Summit (YES!) teams at Lac qui Parle Valley and Atwater Cosmos Grove City High School participated in the Power of Nature Winter Workshop at Willmar Municipal Utilities and Kandiyohi Power Cooperative. This workshop was a full day of how nature can provide us with power and building needs.

Students began the day hearing from Tim Parsons from Terwisscha Construction. Tim spoke about the difference between passive and active strategies to reducing energy needs like placing windows on the south side of the house verses actively heating a home with propane. Students also learned what it means to be LEED certified and the criteria for the certification. Teams then got the chance to handle different “green” building materials like quartz, LP siding, Hardie siding, and LOOP recycled carpet. Although students are not building their own homes, they had many great questions and were constantly making suggestions to projects they could do!

Then the workshop attendees heard from Jeron Smith and Dave Andrist, electrical engineers with the Willmar Municipal Utilities. Jeron and Dave informed the students about all the ins and outs of how wind generation works. The whole process is very confusing and there is a lot going on in one turbine! They explained the difference between dispatchable (can be turned on and off whenever you want it to) and non-dispatchable. Non-dispatchable is what most renewables are because we cannot control when the sun shines and the wind blows. This is what makes renewable energy so difficult because we still like to turn the lights on when it is a calm night and dark outside. Since we can’t control the sun and wind, different companies are trying to find new ways to store the energy produced during good production hours and saving it for times when there is no production, like at night or on calm days. One of the ways is by “Compressed Air Energy Storage, which is pumping air into an underground reservoir, or “cave”, and releasing the air when energy is needed. This is also done with the flow of water! Once again the workshop attendees were continually asking questions and were energized about how they could apply wind energy into future projects.

Students finished their wind energy talk with a tour inside of one of the two wind turbines on the north side of Willmar, MN. Students went from wind energy production to solar energy production with Dan Tepfer at Kandiyohi Power Cooperative (KPC).  Dan explained what KPC does and how solar panels produce energy. He explained how their community solar program operates where anyone that is a member of KPC can utilize solar energy without actually installing solar panels on their private property. Instead, they can “lease” panels from KPC in their community solar array and utilize its power without worrying about installation and maintenance. He also spoke about the “research” of having a solar panel on the backside of an existing panel (where there is usually a reflector) to increase energy production in the summer months when the sun is higher in the sky! Workshop attendees finished the day outside in the wind and cold looking at the community solar array KPC offers. Although the weather wasn’t nice, students left with amazing project ideas and plans to get them started!

“We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children” –Native American Proverb

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