Competitive spirit at work as Youth Energy Summit teams develop clean energy projects

SPICER -- The same sort of motivation that led Charles Lindbergh to fly nonstop across the Atlantic is inspiring more than 100 young people in 10 different communities in west central Minnesota today.

SPICER -- The same sort of motivation that led Charles Lindbergh to fly nonstop across the Atlantic is inspiring more than 100 young people in 10 different communities in west central Minnesota today.

They are locked in competition to find clean energy solutions for their communities, and claim the first Youth Energy Summit prize to be awarded by the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center and the Southwest Initiative Foundation.

"The competitive spirit is at work,'' said Dave Pederson, Prairie Woods director. Prairie Woods and its partners in this venture aren't able to match the $25,000 in prize money that Lindbergh claimed by being the first to fly nonstop from New York to Paris in 1927.

But local pride and youthful enthusiasm are making up for it: Pederson said the local youths are competitive in their desire to come up with the best clean energy project for their home community.

Each of the teams has developed projects of their own making. Their projects will be judged on criteria including a project's usefulness, creativity, economic impact and ability to address climate change.


The teams include nine that are based in schools and one, in Milan, that is community-based. All consist of youths, grades 8 through 12, along with adult coaches.

Most of the teams are taking on two and sometimes three projects, according to Anne Dybsetter, Prairie Woods coordinator for the competition. Most teams are starting with smaller projects with more immediate goals, while also working on larger, "big picture''projects, she said.

Examples of the smaller projects can be seen in both Milan and Montevideo. The teams in the respective communities have installed solar-powered, LED holiday lights in public areas.

Many teams are also looking for ways to take advantage of the renewable energy resources readily available in this region, such as wind, solar and biomass. Dybsetter described the projects as both creative and ambitious.

The Milan team wants to erect a 20-kilowatt wind generator. It will help power the former Milan school building, which was recently acquired by a nonprofit community group.

At BOLD, a team of students is drafting a plan to use biomass to heat the school's indoor pool.

And in Willmar, a team of students wants to develop a community greenhouse to reduce the fuels used in transporting foods. They plan to use a greenhouse on the MinnWest Technology Campus in Willmar, and may install solar panels to help heat it.

Pederson said this year's competition is the "pilot'' for what will be an annual competition. The Southwest Initiative Foundation has committed funding for the first three years and is taking an active role as a partner in the venture.


Cheryl Glaeser, program specialist with the Initiative, said the response has been very encouraging. The 10 teams represent a variety of communities throughout the region. The Milan community team is joined by competitors from these schools: BOLD, Canby, Dawson-Boyd, Montevideo, Morris Area, New Century Charter of Hutchinson, New London-Spicer, Paynesville Area, Redwood Valley and Willmar.

While clean energy is the competition's focus, YES can really be looked at as an educational opportunity in many different areas, Pederson said.

Duane Ninneman, Milan team coach, said his team members have taken on tasks ranging from writing and distributing news releases to meeting with the city council. The Milan youth are also working with Otter Tail Power to obtain compact fluorescent lights. The young team members will go door to door in the community to distribute the lights and offer to install them, he said.

YES got under way at a September event that brought the teams of students together with resources from the region. The teams will rejoin Jan. 15 at the Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Granite Falls. It will serve as an opportunity to acquaint the students with post-secondary education and career opportunities in renewable energy.

That is one of the best aspects of the YES competition, according to Pederson. West central Minnesota has the opportunity to develop an exciting future based on its abundant, renewable energy resources.

While he doesn't necessarily expect any team to achieve a milestone on a par with Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic, he does believe this: The interest and knowledge the students gain by their participation in YES could lead them on to careers and endeavors every bit as exciting as Lindbergh's feat.

Best of all, they can find those opportunities right in west central and southwestern Minnesota, he said.

YES competition will continue through Earth Day, at which time the teams will rejoin at the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center to share their works and recognize teams for their achievements.

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