Jim Bain has a dream: Powering Woodbury's newest high school with a single wind turbine that might produce enough electricity to even supply the city's Bielenberg Sports Center next door.

East Ridge High School, which will open with about 1,200 students in 2009, is being built with a wind turbine in mind even though the proposal -- which could become a joint venture with Woodbury city government -- remains in the early stages.

"We are actively pursuing this as if it could be a reality," said Tom Nelson, superintendent of District 833. "It makes sense economically, it makes sense environmentally, but we have a ways to go."

East Ridge is being built next to the sports center in a complex that eventually would include dozens of athletic fields shared and managed by School District 833 and the city. The wind turbine, if approved as Bain envisions, would stand near a corner of the new high school's football field and could rise to a height of 160 feet, said Bain, the former energy management coordinator for South Washington County Schools.

Electricity bills at Woodbury High School run as high as $25,000 a month, Bain said. Because East Ridge will be a larger school with more community use, including a performing arts theater, its energy could cost even more, Bain said. A large wind turbine could pay for itself in seven years, and after that energy savings would be substantial, he said.

And the school wouldn't depend on the turbine alone for power.

Natural gas will be piped to East Ridge for cooking and other uses and electrical service would be available through a local utility when the turbine couldn't deliver a steady stream of power, Bain said.

He presented his vision to a joint meeting of the school board and the Woodbury City Council recently. The city hasn't approved the proposal but city officials plan to look at other wind turbines to see how they work and whether noise would be a concern.

Some Woodbury residents have asked whether a turbine that large would harm birds, said Council Member Amy Scoggins. She said that Woodbury city leaders want to learn more about the turbine and always welcome alternative energy ideas.

"I think when it makes sense financially, we're open to doing what we can," she said.

Placing a wind turbine at a school is unusual but not unique. Northfield's two colleges, St. Olaf and Carlton, each have one.

"We were looking for ways to reduce our carbon imprint," said Pete Sandberg, St. Olaf's vice president for facilities, who describes the importance of finding energy alternatives. "Dollars not spent on energy can be used in the classroom."

The St. Olaf turbine produces enough electricity to power the campus at night if air conditioning isn't being used. Much of the power from the 1.65-megawatt turbine will be used to hold down operating costs at a major new science building that opens in August, he said.

Turbine as educational tool

In Apple Valley, a wind turbine was erected last year at the School of Environmental Sciences. It is expected to generate enough energy to power two homes and is intended primarily as an educational tool.

The decision in Woodbury might come down to appearance vs. practicality. A larger turbine -- size and output remain under discussion -- would have a wingspan of 114 feet. It might be tall enough to require approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Like the windmills of yesteryear, the turbine would swivel to catch changing wind direction. Sensors on the propellers would shut it down during strong storms or when ice starts to coat the propellers. They would move slowly enough, Bain said, that birds could land on them.

If the proposal moves forward, the school district might have to seek grants to help pay for the turbine, said district spokeswoman Barb Brown. Costs of different models vary according to their electrical output. A 1.65-megawatt model, for example, might produce enough power that excess electricity could be sold to Xcel Energy, Bain said. A turbine that size would cost about $1.5 million.

Bain, a firm believer in the need to find alternatives to fossil-fuel consumption, finds wind turbines pleasing to the eye. And he foresees East Ridge teachers using the wind turbine's presence to involve students in everything from monitoring the computer software that runs the turbine to mathematical equations that figure energy use to the environmental science of carbon emissions.

Kevin Giles • 651-298-1554