Less than one year after installing a wind turbine on school grounds, Camden Hills Regional High School Windplanners have been named the Region 1 winners of the Presidential Environmental Youth Award.

Since 1971, the President of the United States has joined with the Environmental Protection Agency to recognize students across the U.S. for protecting the nation's air, water, land and ecology, according to its website.

The Windplanners have also been shortlisted for the Volvo Adventure — a partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme — to represent the United States alongside finalists from Bulgaria, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Peru, the United Kingdom and Turkey.

According to Windplanners faculty liaison Margo Murphy, Volvo is flying five students and two advisers to Sweden to compete for prizes of $10,000, $6,000 or $4,000.

More than 250 projects were submitted from around the world for the Volvo Adventure, Murphy said, adding the Windplanners were selected from approximately 34 U.S. teams.

Murphy said the Windplanners began nine years ago, as Camden Hills Regional High School was being retrofitted to compensate for significant energy consumption. Students began investigating options that would bring alternative energy onto campus, and after exploring several options, Murphy said the group "landed on wind."

With assistance from the University of Massachusetts Wind Energy Center — which Murphy said is "the place to go to learn about terrestrial wind" — the students received a grant to install meteorological towers on Camden Hills campus and nearby Ragged Mountain. The group analyzed data and determined they had a "marginal wind resource" that was adequate to justify installing the wind turbine at the school.

Murphy said while the plan might not have appealed to commercial logic, "for education, it made sense."

The Windplanners began fundraising, and worked with state and town officials to craft ordinances and guidelines regarding wind turbines. Murphy said the students presented to the school board multiple times, and testified before the Public Utilities Commission.

According to Murphy, the Windplanners began investigating not reused turbines, but models that were specifically designed to operate at low sound levels with relatively little wind. That goal required the Windplanners raise "a whole lot more money," Murphy said, in order to raise the approximately half a million dollars to purchase the Northwind 100 turbine that was eventually selected.

Murphy said challenges from community members were a "critical part of the evolution of this project," forcing students to become more sophisticated in their understanding of the math, science and legislation the project demanded.

"It was the right thing to do," Murphy said of the wind turbine project.

Following a final presentation, the school board supported the Windplanners' turbine project by a unanimous vote in December 2011.

Murphy said the foundation was installed "very quickly," and the turbine began generating energy on March 23, 2012.

The Windplanners will be honored with the President's Environmental Youth Award in an April 24 ceremony in Boston, which Murphy said "feels great."

"Students are learning…it's worth putting time into," Murphy said.

Murphy added that while the entire Windplanners team will be traveling to Boston, only the five students who wrote the award application for the Volvo Adventure — titled "Moving towards becoming a carbon neutral school" — will travel to Sweden.

Next steps

Murphy said the Windplanners' work has "revved right back up," and the group is currently working with the Island Institute on an Energy for ME project.

According to Murphy, the Windplanners are focusing on energy efficiency, and have installed some "very sophisticated monitoring equipment" in Camden Hills.

“The more and more energy we can save…means the percentage we are producing with our own wind turbine increases," Murphy said, adding the school's 8-kilowatt solar array "costs a lot of money."

The group has already helped the school save more than $2,000 in energy this year by experimenting with transformer use and examining emergency lighting in classrooms.

Murphy said the goal of the group's April green week is to collect data and share with the whole school community.

"It doesn't require much to try to get the school community involved," Murphy said.

The Windplanners, who are currently on their third or fourth generation of students, are still recruiting new members, and includes four “very active” freshmen, according to Murphy.

Murphy said at least one member of the first generation of Windplanners will attend the President's Environmental Youth Awards ceremony in Boston.

Camden Herald reporter Bane Okholm can be reached at 236-8511 ext. 304 or by email at bokholm@courierpublicationsllc.com.