Students Take on Sustainable Energy at Ernestown Wind Park

By: Melody Tomkow (Ernestown Wind Park)

Murray Dee’s Grade 6 class at Rideau Heights Public School in Kingston, Ontario began their exploration into climate change with a single guiding principle, “How can we improve our relationship with nature by building our knowledge about climate change as a community?”

In talking about the journey his class is on, Mr. Dee began, “It is safe to say that my class had a very limited understanding of climate change.
We began by getting an understanding of the seasons and how the greenhouse effect worked. This generated more and more questions; and these questions drove the direction of the inquiry. We quickly realized that we could organize the questions into different groups, such as causes, consequences, past, and actions.”

Mr. Dee continued, “Eventually, we realized we needed to focus our attention on actions. This was the decision made by the class”.  In their words, “we need to figure out how to stop or slow down climate change”. To build up to developing actions, the students investigated the impact fuel and electricity generation choices have on GHG emissions; and are exploring technologies that are part of reducing GHG emissions, such as electric vehicles, solar PV, wave and wind electricity generation.  This brought them to Ernestown Wind Park in Odessa, 22 Km west of Kingston. A small 10 MW project, sited on active industrial and agricultural land, the project was commissioned in 2014.

“Other than our grand opening held during Green Energy Doors Open (GEDO) in 2014 and GEDO 2015, we haven’t had students at the wind park”, said Melody Tomkow Community Relations and Communications Manger for the wind park. “Mr. Dee’s class, and a class of Grade 3 students came to the wind park together in April this year. They piled out of the bus and a great cacophonous roar of approval issued forth from the group about the size and “coolness” of the turbine. They spent the first ten minutes running around with their faces turned upward to take in the full 98M of the turbine’s height, and the sweep of the blades. When we gathered around the turbine to talk about the wind park, their high level of engagement with their research was evident. One grade six student was very interested in finding out how she could move beyond making posters, and take more action (we are working with OSEA to find a good initiative for her to participate in). There were questions about how the turbine technology generates electricity, how the turbines were assembled, the size of components, and how the sensing systems work. But it was perhaps most gratifying to talk with such young students about how energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed,” Ms. Tomkow added.

After the field trip Mr. Dee told Ms. Tomkow, “Visiting the wind park was pretty powerful because it gave them an up close and personal experience. It was so large and it was clear that there was no GHG being emitted. It’s one thing to talk about wind turbines, but it is totally different to see one up close. They got a whole new appreciation of how much clean energy they can produce. They were amazed that the turbines at Ernestown Wind Park could provide enough electricity for 3500 homes for a year. The trip was also very empowering because it was a field trip that THEY requested, not one set up by me,” he added.

The students are developing an action plan with steps that can be taken to reduce the carbon footprint at home and at school. A waste and lighting audit is on their list for the school, as is a transportation audit to look at how people get to school and calculate how much GHG is produced.

The question, “How can we improve our relationship with nature by building our knowledge about climate change as a community?” has led the students to develop knowledge building, research and study skills as a group; and plan actions as a community. It’s an empowering learning model. After the trip Mr. Dee’s asked a student about when she will be done with her climate change inquiry, and she responded, “we are never done when it comes to climate change, there is always more to learn”. Given the success the students have had this year, Mr. Dee’s hope is that they will demand to continue this inquiry when they come back to school in the fall.

Ernestown Wind Park will be hosting an open house event for Green Energy Doors Open September 9, 10, 11, 2016.