Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Green Energy at Conner Prairie

We're back from our brief hiatus!  Many apologies for the delay in posting.  January is a busy month for us, as we have to collect and send numerous reports to the federal government on all of our activity for the past quarter.  And, most of our Energy Efficiency & Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) projects wrapped up at the end of December, so we've been busy wrapping up there too.  Enough excuses though!

Today, we've asked Ken Bubp from Conner Prairie Interactive History Museum to do a guest post for us so our readers could have a different perspective of the grant process.  We'll let Ken take it from here --

Just over two years ago, Conner Prairie Interactive History Park received notice from the Indiana Office of Energy Development of a grant award for $19,100 towards installing a wind turbine and solar panels on the property. This month we are wrapping up the two year grant period, and we are grateful for the good work of the staff at Indiana OED in supporting projects like this all across the state.

Photos courtesy of Conner Prairie

We saw this as an opportunity to connect old technology with new, and to engage our guests by encouraging them to think about the ways that people have always sought to harness nature’s elements for their advantage. As you know, wind engines (as they were called in the 19th century) have long been a part of the Indiana landscape, using the forces of nature to create energy. We are fortunate to have a large restored wind engine—the Star Wind Mill—in our collection made by Flint and Walling, once the world’s largest windmill manufacturer and located in Kendallville, Indiana. For many months, that giant object greeted guests who entered our Great Hall, accompanied by exhibit signage comparing and contrasting the 1880s wind mill with our 2009 Skystream 3.7 wind turbine which was installed thanks to the Indiana OED program. (That 19th century wind mill has since been replaced with a Civil War cannon in anticipation of our new exhibit, 1863 Civil War Journey, to open summer 2011.) Our guests had a great view of the wind turbine and the solar panel installations from 350 feet in the air on board 1859 Balloon Voyage, and many commented on Conner Prairie’s inclusion of green energy production in the overall grounds.

If you are thinking about applying for funding from Indiana OED for a project like this, I would encourage you to do so. As the project manager for this green initiative at Conner Prairie, I have had an excellent experience with all staff at Indiana OED. At every turn, where we had questions, they were eager to help. They indicated that one of the keys to our successful application was our emphasis on using the installations to connect with our guests with an educational focus. Another key for us was to find a good partner to make sure we were working with the right technology in the right way.

Just because the grant period is closing does not mean that our work is done. We have plans to continue to integrate these new features into our ongoing offerings for guests, and of course to realize the benefits from the wind and solar energy we are producing. Far from simply looking back to the past, we are embracing new technologies and alternate avenues to engage our guests in meaningful, memorable ways.

Many thanks to Ken and his team at Conner Prairie for a job well done (with this post and the project!).  This project has displaced more than 12,500 kWh and saved the museum $1,200 so far.  And I'll also mention that Conner Prairie is a prime example of the type of grant recipient we look for when scoring projects.  Of course, you need to have a solid energy project to back up your other work.  But we always like to see educational efforts worked into proposals, and it's great to hear that this experience has encouraged the museum to continue its energy-saving efforts.  You can read more about the museum's green initiatives here.

Although we don't have any open grants right now for renewable projects like Conner Prairie's, we hope reading about this project will be helpful in the future in some way.  And, if you happen to be up in the Fishers area, make sure to stop by to see the wind turbine and solar array -- and enjoy the overall experience while you're there too!