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Professors Receive Grant to Study Wind Energy

BOONE–Imagine lighting your house with the power of the wind. Wind-generated electricity is a common commodity in California, Pennsylvania, Texas and more than 20 other states across the United States, where wind turbines dot the landscape. But is the wind a feasible source of electricity in North Carolina?

Appalachian State University professors Dennis Scanlin, Todd Cherry and Xingong Li have received a $77,947 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and the N.C. State Energy Office to help state officials answer that question.

They will spend the next two years collecting data to determine the viability of wind energy in Western North Carolina.

“There will be no construction as part of this grant,” Scanlin emphasizes. “We document the wind resources in the state, identify potential environmental and economic impacts and will try to create an accurate picture of what a modern utility scale wind farm would look and sound like,” Scanlin said.

Scanlin is a professor in Appalachian’s Department of Technology. He teaches courses in appropriate technology, such as renewable electricity technology and solar thermal energy technology.

He knows debate can occur when alternative energy, such as wind power, is mentioned. Often people fear negative impacts on the environment, or an area’s scenic beauty.

Many Watauga County residents remember when NASA field tested a wind turbine on Howard Knob between 1979 and 1981. Residents blamed the wind generator for poor television reception. Some said it was too noisy. Most thought the NASA experiment failed. Scanlin says otherwise. “It’s somewhat ironic that the project on Howard Knob was the beginning of the development of utility scale wind turbines in the world. It has led to the technology that is commercially available today,” Scanlin said.

But little research was conducted in North Carolina after the wind turbine was dismantled. “We don’t have a very accurate picture of the wind resources we have,” he said. “This effort will more carefully and accurately describe the wind resources in North Carolina and the information can be used by anyone—policymakers, decision makers, citizens–interested in pursuing the development of wind technology in the future.”

The first phase of the study will create a wind resource map of North Carolina produced by TrueWind Solutions of Albany, N.Y., which will include detailed information about wind conditions across the state.

Scanlin and his colleagues will research the legal issues, including zoning or permitting restrictions, locations, cost vs. performance of wind generators, and environmental, viewshed and social issues. They also will look at the geography of the state to identify promising sites and the economic issues regarding wind energy.

“Our traditional energy sources have negative external impacts on society and the environment,” said Cherry, an assistant professor of economics in Appalachian’s Walker College of Business. “Those negative impacts aren’t typically captured in the price of these energy sources. That’s the main drive for exploring green (nonpolluting) technologies.”

Cherry said advances in technology are making the cost of wind-generated technology more comparable to the traditional sources of energy. “The argument is that when you account for the negative factors of traditional energy sources, wind may be a more efficient source of energy. That’s what we are going to look.”

The information collected by the professors will be posted on the Web once the study is complete.

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Contacts:

Dr. Dennis Scanlin, Department of Technology, 828-262-6361

Dr. Todd Cherry, Department of Economics, (828) 262-2148

Jane Nicholson, University News, (828) 262-2345