ISHPEMING - Alternative energy - whether prompted by rising gas prices or concern over global warming - is often seen as the technology of the future.
Wind turbines and solar panels are popping up in towns, school districts and businesses.
Thanks to a grant from the Michigan Public Service Commission, students at two Marquette County school districts will soon have the chance to get hands-on experience with technology they could end up using in future careers.
As one of 15 grants approved in the state of Michigan by the Michigan Public Service Commission, the NICE Community Schools is in line to receive several different types of alternative energy technology, including commercial-grade wind turbines, a biodiesel lab and a solar panel. In anticipation of receiving the equipment, John Jessen’s industrial arts class has already built two homemade wind turbines, both pictured at right. (Journal photos by Johanna Boyle)
The NICE Community Schools and Negaunee Public Schools have been approved for a $70,000 shared grant and are now waiting for the equipment to arrive.
"I think it's the future. It's the future and students know it. They're fired up about it," said Tony Ebli, director of career and technical education for the Marquette-Alger RESA.
The grant includes three wind turbines, a solar panel set up, a biodiesel processor and diesel engine, a pellet mill and pellet stove and a weather station to help monitor wind and sun.
One turbine will be set up within the Negaunee schools while the rest of the equipment will go to Westwood High School where a special class on exploring green energy will teach students how to use and study the equipment.
"We actually made a couple of wind turbines ourselves," said industrial arts teacher John Jessen. "They both worked."
The new equipment, however, will be a big step up for students in terms of learning how the technology can be applied.
"It's an actual application where they can see these things and the impact they can make," Jessen said.
Jessen has been designing a curriculum for the class - planned to start next fall once the equipment arrives. By splitting the class into small groups, Jessen said he planned to have the class spend a couple weeks learning about each piece of technology.
"It's important for these kids because if they get into industry, they're going to see this type of technology more and more," Jessen said. "It's definitely something these kids are going to see within their lifetimes."
The grant will allow students to get experience working with various types of energy production.
Solar panels and wind turbines may be fairly recognizable to students, but the grant also provides for a biodiesel lab and diesel engine and a pellet processor and stove so that students can understand the processes that go into making those types of fuel.
The weather station will also be used by Westwood's science classes, Jessen said.
Ebli and Jessen said students, teachers and administrators have been showing interest in the project.
"When you have teachers fired up, you just go after it," Ebli said.
"There's a lot of interest within the school," he said. "There's a lot of interest in the community."
The grant for Negaunee and NICE was one of 15 awarded throughout the state and the only one in the U.P. Grants had to be used in conjunction with a career and technical program.