Union College wind turbines part of sustainability effort

Lighting the field for Union College’s soccer games will literally be a breeze.

Lighting the field for Union College’s soccer games will literally be a breeze.

Three 33-foot tall wind turbines installed Wednesday near the soccer fields adjacent to College Park Hall will supply about 40 percent of the power used at the athletic complex annually. This will save the college several thousand dollars.

If the lights are not turned on, then that electricity can go to the grid and Union can get some money for generating electricity, said Rick Anderson of Melrose-based Titan Power Systems, the company installing the turbines.

Anderson proudly touted the fact that the turbines are made from recycled materials, mostly aluminum and metals from airplanes, and are being constructed in Michigan.

“We’ve put back to work some laid off auto manufacturing plant workers,” he said.

Rather than spinning like a windmill, the blades of these 1.2-kilowatt turbines remain upright as the wind pushes them around a cylinder. There is a converter at the bottom of the spinner. This is the “brains” of the unit, Anderson said, which converts the wind energy into alternating current that travels underground and connects to the electrical grid.

The turbines do not make a lot of noise. They can even be located on top of a large commercial building. College officials had to obtain a permit from the city to install the structures.

Installation of the turbines usually takes a day or two, Anderson said. It has been a little more difficult because the location was a former American Locomotive Co. brownfield site and workers encountered a lot of asphalt and concrete.

The college is spending $35,000 on the turbines. Union officials hope to get some money back, possibly through federal grant programs. Turbines typically last 25 to 30 years and pay back their investment within three to seven years, according to Anderson.

In addition to powering the athletic complex, the turbines will be used for research in Wilk’s mechanical engineering classes.

Terry Miltner, the college’s sustainability coordinator, said this is just the latest example of the college’s efforts to become more green during the last few years.

“We’re trying to change our behavior to be more conscious of everybody’s actions,” he said.

Since 2007, Union has been part of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment with about 675 institutions of higher learning. The college has a strong recycling program. It recently switched to a single-stream recycling, which puts all products into one waste container. Its recycling rate has increased 10 percent to 38 percent. There are also teams of students who compete to see who can shut off the most lights and many have been retrofitted to LEDs.

President Stephen Ainlay gives out Presidential Green Grants in support of projects at the college such its organic community garden and Octopus’s Garden.

The efforts of the college’s U Sustain students and staff have also been recognized in The Princeton Review “Guide to Green Colleges.”

The college is also testing a fuel cell that will convert natural gas into electricity to provide heat for 30 students living in Beuth House as part of a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy, Plug Power and National Grid.

College officials are even considering the possibility of installing a hydroelectric system, tapping into a brook that runs through the campus and partly underground.

Not all sites are set up or wind, solar, or photovoltaic, Anderson said. He enjoys trying to determine what works best for a client.

“The challenge is going on a site and figuring out what are the proper renewable resources to utilize,” he said.

In addition to being a renewable energy dealer, Anderson also serves as what he called the “go-to green guy” for the “Fabulous Beekman Boys,” a TV show about two men’s efforts to become organic farmers.

Students looked on as Anderson and his crew installed the turbines.

“I think it’s great,” said Leigh Manley, a junior from western Massachusetts. “It’s going to power the lights on the soccer field. That’s pretty impressive since they are pretty intense lights.”

Junior Darren DelDotto of Worcester, Mass., an environmental science major, said it is admirable for the college to install the turbines. “Renewable energy is definitely the direction of the future.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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