A few years ago I was visiting my uncle (now deceased) and my aunt and they had dropin visitors curious about their wind generation. I researched the group that was showing interest in their windmills and found out they represented a very worthwhile outdoor learning center. This would be a good place to take a field trip.
The simultaneous utilization of more than one renewable energy source can result in a spectacular reduction in costs and can diminish a carbon footprint. The Deep Portage Learning Center of Minnesota is proof. In places such as these, children, adults, and families gather to learn valuable skills like conservation, resource management, and environmental protection, not to mention all around enjoyment of the outdoors. Central to these activities is renewable energy generation.
Northern Minnesota, known for its long, cold, snowy winters, would not seem like a prime location for solar energy generation. However, the solar potential is as great as some southern regions. Deep Portage, a center that focuses on environmental awareness and education, has built a number of solar energy systems that heat classrooms, supply hot water, and provide electricity. The electric system is tied into the grid and offsets the center's monthly energy costs. Two solar powered furnaces provide forty percent of the heat for two of the classrooms, even during the coldest months of the winter. The furnaces were installed by the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance located in nearby Pine River, Minnesota. Their solar hot water system provides seven hundred gallons at peak production, which is eighty percent of their need at times when the center's enrollment is at full capacity. The solar classroom system is two-sided and is powered from the top as well as reflecting light from white rocks at the bottom.
Northern Minnesota has ample wood resources, so switching from propane heat to wood gasification at Deep Portage was probably a logical step. The main building burns eighty five cords of wood in a typical winter. They use a pressurized wood boiler rated at five hundred thousand BTUs per hour, and a similarly rated non-pressurized furnace. The Interpretive Center building uses a turbo pressurized wood boiler manufactured in Austria that is rated at one hundred seventy BTUs per hour. Energy efficient fireplace inserts heat the great hall and the dining hall. The savings in one building alone, after conversion from propane, averages thirty five thousand dollars per year.
Two wind turbines produce ten kilowatts at peak power. The output amounts to over seven thousand kilowatts in a month's time. With its seventeen foot blade sweep, the larger of these windmills towers over the campus as an iconic symbol of green energy.
In addition to renewable energy generation, Deep Portage is a model for conservation and green living. For example, the placement of windows allows for maximum utilization of natural light and sunlight. Many of the buildings were constructed using local granite. Classes teach self reliance and an appreciation for the environment and the natural world. The activity list seems endless: canoeing, fishing, bird watching, archery, snow shoeing, science, forest management, plant identification, basics of hunting and gathering, crafting from recycled materials, foraging, orienteering, journaling, nature drawing and aquatics, and a hundred other paths to an enlightened lifestyle.
Deep Portage Learning Center is one of many such campuses across the nation and around the world where education, recreation and community building take place in these amazing indoor spaces and outdoor classrooms.