By now, Blacksburg residents and commuters who travel Main Street will have noted an egg beater-like apparatus on a pole in front of the YMCA. The raising of the pole for the mini wind-turbine on April 19 was a major milestone in what has turned out to be a year-long effort by Virginia Tech students, faculty members, and staff, and community volunteers to build a wind and solar demonstration site and education center at the YMCA center at 1000 North Main Street.
Cortney Martin, a faculty member with Virginia Tech’s Earth Sustainability program, led an effort, along with David Dillard, the Adhesive and Sealant Science Professor in engineering science and mechanics at Virginia Tech and Gail Billingsley, executive director of the Blacksburg YMCA, that received a Community Action Grant for Energy Research from Virginia Tech's Office of the Vice President for Research last April to develop a demonstration project investigating the feasibility of micro wind–based net metering for Southwest Virginia.
Information about the project as well as general resources for wind energy can be found online. YMCA Open University classes are planned to educate the public on the process of installing wind energy systems. Other goals are to work with citizens and the town regarding renewable energy zoning and regulations; and collect, analyze, and share data to support economic development through new wind-based business ventures.
The Town of Blacksburg’s Planning and Building Department is working with the YMCA on this demonstration project in hopes of providing feedback for reviewing and adopting permanent regulations dealing with wind and solar innovations. "This provisional wind and solar site will assist the Town of Blacksburg as we work with businesses and residents to create regulations that promote alternate energy systems with thoughtful integration into our community," said Karen Drake, Blacksburg Town Comprehensive Planner.
The grid-interactive renewable energy system was expanded to include a solar component allowing for direct comparison between the two technologies. The system includes a 600W vertical axis wind turbine purchased from Urban Green Energy coupled with a bank of six 175-watt roof-mounted solar panels donated by Bryan Walsh of Solar Connexion in Blacksburg, who has been instrumental in the system design and integration for this project.
Solar Connexion and Bell Electric of Blacksburg, led by Steve Gerus, have chief responsibility for installation. Peter Thompson, CEO of Streamlined Strategies of Blacksburg, and Virginia Tech faculty members have managed the project "and the senior design students from the Virginia Tech Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics have contributed significantly to the design and installation," said Dillard. Other volunteers and donors include local citizens, Town of Blacksburg officials, State Electric Supply Co. of Christiansburg, Pierre LaFlamme PE of Dublin, and Richard Reid Builders of Blacksburg.
"This demonstration project will give our community hands-on experience with alternative energy sources, specifically wind and solar power generation, in a more urban landscape," said Martin, who is also coordinator for pedagogical practice with the Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research. "We are providing research opportunities for students and faculty members as we identify the technical and non-technical barriers and solutions specific to our area."