Zephyr Wind Project is community-wide effort and powerful educational tool

About six years ago, on a cool, windy fall evening at a Mahtomedi High School soccer game, parents sat huddled together, trying to stay warm. The group thought: “Wouldn’t it be great to produce something positive from the cool breezes—perhaps harvest the wind to produce clean energy and show our commitment to the environment?”

Several in that group took that idea to heart, organized with other community members to form the Mahtomedi Area Green Initiative (MAGI), and today that dream is reality in the form of the Mahtomedi Zephyr Wind Turbine. A 10 kW, 120-foot wind turbine stands tall at the athletic field, generating power for the stadium’s lights and scoreboard and serving an even larger role as an educational tool for the community.

A new wind is sweeping across the Northeast Metro: collaboration and a shared vision for a better, more sustainable community. It is a vision that is held by many, but seldom actually implemented. In Mahtomedi, Minnesota, the winds of sustainability are blowing, especially near the high school. The Mahtomedi Area Green Initiative, or MAGI, is a community-based organization that started their efforts about five years ago. Their goals are to reduce use of nonrenewable energy, promote renewable energy, and encourage sustainability in their community.

MAGI began by hosting community meetings with speakers and workshops. As these community events picked up momentum, the group’s efforts gained steam. They wrote grants to the MN Pollution Control Agency to enable the City of Mahtomedi to complete a municipal carbon footprint analysis using ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability software. This led to the city collaborating with a University of Minnesota class to draft a sustainability plan for the city. Other MPCA grants brought MN GreenCorps members to the school district and city to assist with community and municipal sustainability projects.

MAGI’s biggest initiative to date has been to raise funds to purchase a 10 kW wind turbine to generate educational opportunities and clean energy. The idea came to parents attending events at the school athletic fields who realized that the winds off of White Bear Lake were always strong and always blowing.

“I think that people became really excited that the project was going to have a direct impact on the education of our children,” Paul Hoff, MAGI member, says. “This got more people interested in helping fund the project.”

The Zephyr Wind Project (named for the school’s mascot, the Zephyr, a Greek mythology symbol for the west wind) is one that has involved remarkable collaborations and the dedication of its community members. The project has been truly by the community and for the community.

It’s in a great location for catching the wind and for its visibility. It sends a strong message that our community is committed to clean energy.

Paul Hoff, a member of MAGI

This summer the Mahtomedi High School football field and track were being replaced, so the timing was perfect for installing the turbine. After five years of fundraising, education, outreach, and technical assessments, Zephyr Wind supporters were ready. On July 18, the 10 kW Bergey Excel “Zephyr Wind Turbine” was installed, becoming an exciting aspect of the field revamp.

Funded entirely by personal donations, foundation gifts, and grants from state and federal agencies, including a grant from the Metro CERT, the turbine will be donated to the school district. It is currently awaiting required inspections, after which the blades will be activated and begin capturing the Zephyr wind.

“The goal is to unveil the new football field and wind turbine at the same time this fall. People will see the lights on the new field being powered by the wind turbine right beside it,” Hoff said. “It is a community effort, and it should have a community impact.”

The turbine is equipped with data-logging systems that will feed real-time information to the schools for classroom use. It will serve as a demonstration and teaching tool for future generations, as well as offset some electricity costs for the school.

Like any grassroots organization, MAGI has encountered some bumps in the road to reaching their goals. “We’ve had to get beyond being seen as ‘The Turbine People.’ Folks would tend to think that the turbine was the only goal, and once it was up, that would be it, ‘they’re done now’,” Paul Hoff said. But it’s just the opposite. MAGI sees the Zephyr Wind Turbine as a beginning for the community, a symbol for a future with better energy efficiencies and use of renewable energy.

From its earliest stages to the final installation, the Zephyr Wind Project has been distinctly local and community based. This community-initiated and supported model can hopefully be duplicated by other cities or organizations looking to invest in clean energy. The efforts MAGI has taken on the small community scale are the first steps that make larger goals a reality. Winds of community change are blowing in Mahtomedi, where they will soon help power the school.

“It’s in a great location for catching the wind and for its visibility,” said Paul Hoff, a member of MAGI. “It sends a strong message that our community is committed to clean energy.”

“Indeed, it’s a source of pride for the people of Mahtomedi,” added Jeanne Zlonis, a MAGI member who helped lead fundraising for the project.

On the night the turbine was dedicated—September 8, 2011 before a Mahtomedi High School football game—the turbine’s effectiveness was showcased for all to see. “The turbine blades were turning even though the flags on the goalposts were still,” reported Hoff. “So the high tower was making a difference. The next Friday was another home game with a steadier breeze, and another large crowd watched a close game with the turbine powering the scoreboard and lights.”

CERTs Seed Grant Case Study

We encourage reuse and republishing of this story. All Clean Energy Resource Teams stories are made available under the Creative Commons Attribution license, meaning you can share and adapt the work as long as you give us credit. We'd also love it if you link back to the original piece. Have questions or want to chat? Drop us a line.