Harnessing the Wind by Michelle Slater

It’s more than just the wind… St. Dominic’s students are investigating the wind farm that has been proposed off Long Island, roughly 11 nautical miles south of Long Beach. (That is roughly 12.7 standard miles from the coast.) In class, students are learning about the multifaceted components of what these windfarms entail.
During our first classes this spring, we focused on the question, “How can we make our energy supply last longer?” Students played a game where they had colored chips representing both non-renewable energy sources such as fossil fuels, coal, and oil, as well as renewable energy from wind power, solar power, hydrothermal, and geothermal sources. Energy usage rates were represented by the number of “energy” chips that students picked each turn. In some instances, usage rates either increased or decreased or more renewable sources were added to the mix. After collecting this data, students practiced their graphing skills and made conclusions. Inevitably, non-renewables always ended up depleted or severely lacking! Students determined that we need to conserve energy and implement more renewable energy schemes. This lesson also provided the students with an opportunity to practice making graphs with multiple trend lines.
Following this lesson, we started to look at the different factors that influence offshore wind. Where do you put a windfarm? There are many considerations: how strong and consistent the wind is, where energy is needed, what the water conditions are like, where birds forage for food, who thrives in the benthic community? …and the list goes on. In one class, we just focused on the seabed. What sediments might best support a large wind turbine? Students practiced taking their own sediment cores using straws in a tray full off different earthen shades of clay. Each color represented a different grain size: clay, silt, fine sand, medium sand, and coarse sand. Students were challenged to use this information alone to determine where to place their turbine and decide what questions they would still have for a researcher.
To tackle some of these questions, students were given actual documents from New York’s proposed wind farm project and assigned a role. For example, one student was a U.S. Coast Guard Captain, another a university professor, or local fisherman, or citizen. After preparing their arguments, students presented their findings in a stakeholder debate. Most students concluded that they were for building the wind farm. However, others were more cautious, wanting more research on the call area to be conducted. They felt that further investigations and compromises could only make the project stronger. Yet, there were still a couple of individuals, who were outright opposed to the idea. They felt that the current technology and construction was too disruptive to our living ecosystems and wanted us to hold back.
Despite being a green energy source, planning and building a wind farm results in some unavoidable problems. Students recognized that there are some animals that might be harmed and fishing activities may be impeded too. Students will now work on compiling what they learned into a persuasive paper that emphasizes their opinion, while also acknowledging counter-arguments.
After spring break, the students are going to get to experiment by building their own model wind turbines. They will explore the difference between a mind mill and a wind turbine, plus decide what shape blade and what angle of that blades is the most efficient. Additionally, if time allows, we will delve more into how the generators work and how we can improve their performance.
On the water, during 3 – 2.5 hour sessions, they will get to explore the wind further by planning, designing, and conducting their own experiment using provided tools such as mechanical and digital anemometers. We will also further explore land and sea breezes. They are excited to get started!