It's taken five years for students at the University of Illinois to finally see a wind turbine on their campus, but it isn't built quite yet. The first step to re-approve building a wind turbine on campus saw success in late October. Students involved in a campus club, called Students for Environmental Concerns, hope to see construction in May 2011.
"The engineer in me wants to see something physical and shiny in the end. It's something I can look at," said Julie Fry, chair of the renewables committee for Students for Environmental Concerns. The junior majoring in civil engineering first joined the student organization her second semester, freshmen year.
"I remember attending a candle vigil for the wind turbine project," she said. "It's really satisfying because it seemed so hopeless, but now it's happening with more momentum than before."
The momentum Fry is talking about involves the first of many steps in the right direction to get one wind turbine built on the South Farms of the university.
The farms are directly south of the university's main campus, and as Fry suggested, is the perfect place for a wind turbine.
"It's far enough away that people wouldn't have complaints about the noise or if it's ugly. Also, wind turbines have to be far enough away from habited areas, because in the winter they throw off ice," she said.
The first successful step Fry and a handful of students on her committee are responsible for is "resurrecting the project from its zombie state."
In 2006, students first proposed the idea for three wind turbines to provide close to 3 percent of the university's total electricity. However, the previous chancellor wasn't proactive enough to get the project moving. Gradually the idea of three turbines fell to one, and eventually the project was nixed in fall 2008.
Persistence pays off for Fry and her committee. They are responsible for encouraging the proposal to regain its composure, and go faster than before.
"It started in April, then it was May, then June, July, August, September, and in October we finally got through," she said. The Request for Proposal, or RFP, determines the bid price for companies interested in building the wind turbine.
After the Nov. 24 deadline, the company with the most competitive price will be selected to construct the 4.5 million dollar project.
"I have to just play it by ear, no one at the university can do anything until November 24," she said. "We're just sitting back, biting our nails."
After that, the proposal must be approved by the university's board of trustees, and once the decision is made, construction can begin.
"As far as renewable energy, the wind turbine is the furthest-along project. The solar energy project is pretty far away right now," said Fry. "That was my one big push, to get the RFP signed, but I'm still figuring out what I want to do from here."
Fry was selected as committee chair, in a last-minute decision right before school started in August.
"It's terrifying because I had to figure it out week by week," she said.
But with the help of a new interim chancellor, and president, both proactive with the project, Fry is hopeful that soon she'll see a wind turbine at Illinois.
"It's something I can look at before I graduate and think, 'Wow, I helped make that happen.'"