Montana State University

MSU picked as home for Wind Applications Center

September 4, 2008 -- By Michael Becker, MSU News Service

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Tel: (406) 994-4571
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BOZEMAN -- The U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory has named Montana State University as the home for the state's new Wind Applications Center.

The designation means that, in the coming years, MSU will incorporate more wind-specific topics into existing engineering courses for students, help educate the public about wind energy and provide support for Montana's growing wind industry, according to Robb Larson, who will be in charge of the center.

"We're a land grant institution dedicated to outreach and engineering," said Larson, who is a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering. "It makes sense to support this industry that will eventually help students find jobs in their own state and support this clean, renewable energy industry."

Montana is one of the first six states in the country to receive federal funding for a wind applications center. The other states included in the first round of funding are Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota.

The wind applications center contract, which was awarded in April, provides the university with $40,000 a year for three years. Larson hopes to supplement that with grants, other funding and industry partnerships as time goes on.

MSU will begin offering wind-related coursework this fall with an alternative energy applications course that Larson will teach. Other classes will follow in the coming semesters.

"Students are already interested in the environment and how to help what they perceive as the problems they'll face when they join the workforce," he said. "So the goal is to get them thinking about wind and alternative energy as a career path."

Wind is expected to provided 20 percent of the country's electricity by 2030, and the Department of Energy predicts that Montana's wind industry could increase its capacity from 166 to 10,000 megawatts by that time - enough electricity to power about 2.5 million homes. The expanding industry will provide jobs and economic growth to rural areas that are rich with wind, Larson said.

When that expansion comes, Larson said Montana will need engineers and technicians like those who graduate each year from MSU's mechanical and construction engineering technology programs. The university's expanded wind-related coursework will only further prepare MSU students for wind careers, Larson said.

In addition to providing students with valuable technical experience, the Wind Applications Center will support the Montana Wind for Schools program, which will install 1.8 kilowatt wind turbines at participating schools around the state.

The turbines aren't powerful enough to make much of a dent in the schools' power bills, Larson said, but they will teach rural students about wind energy and get communities talking about wind as a resource.

Around $60,000 in grants from Northwestern Energy and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality will help fund five demonstration turbines at schools in Cascade, Fairfield, Livingston and Stanford, as well as a turbine on the MSU campus.

The MSU turbine, like those installed at other schools, will be about as tall as a light pole with 12-foot diameter blades. It will also operate at a whisper quiet 45 decibels, Larson said. The university should approve a location for the turbine this month and it will be installed by October.

"It seemed like the time was right for MSU, engineering and my department to step up and make a difference in alternative energy, for environmental reasons and energy independence reasons," Larson said. "That's where students want to go, and it's the right place to go."

Related Stories:

"MSU professor creates one of nation's largest databases for wind energy research," http://www.montana.edu/cpa/news/nwview.php?article=3918, Aug. 11, 2006

"Waking a sleeping buffalo: MSU students explore renewable energy on the Hi-Line," http://www.montana.edu/cpa/news/nwview.php?article=2436, May 19, 2005

"Schweitzer calls for Montana to 'think big' about energy's future," http://www.montana.edu/cpa/news/nwview.php?article=2917, Oct. 19, 2005

Contact: Robb Larson at 406-994-6420 or rlarson@me.montana.edu