Students see energy production as an alternative use for GM plant

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Thursday, June 4, 2009
— The Janesville GM plant is a rare commodity. It's a monster.

The size of the plant was what struck a group of Janesville Craig High School students who were asked to dream up a new use for the plant.

They came up with wind turbines.

Wind turbines are monsters, too. Some are as tall as a football field is long.

And they'd fit inside the GM plant quite nicely, the students figured.

The students—seniors Kyle Hathorn and Elizabeth Reidenbach and sophomores Ally Marshick and Alex Andrews—are students in Andrew Udell's Introduction to Engineering and Design class.

The class is a part of Project Lead the Way, which promotes careers in science, technology engineering and math. Project Lead the Way tries to garner Legislative support each year in Madison, and the Craig class was among those invited to present its ideas at the Capitol in April.

The students found that different parts of the turbines are made in different places. They checked the dimensions of those plants and calculated that the Janesville plant has enough space to manufacture everything under one roof.

Not only that, but the plant is in a good location to supply some of the prime wind-power sites in the country, the students said. That includes the Plains states and the Great Lakes, where winds blow unimpeded by hills or buildings.

Turbines out in the Great Lakes wouldn't be subject to hurricanes, and they'd be less likely to become targets of terrorists than the turbines proposed for the country's ocean coastal waters, the students suggested.

When they made that point to Rep. Mike Sheridan, D-Janesville, he seemed impressed, saying he'd never heard that before, Udell said.

The plant has great access to the Interstate system, "and the railroad runs right to GM," Hathorn noted.

Sheridan welcomed the students with open arms, Udell said. "He made them feel like the most important people in the Capitol that day."

Some fault the big wind turbines for potentially killing migrating birds, but Andrews thinks that's not a real problem.

"More birds fly into buildings in Chicago than wind turbines," he said. "The environmental impact is slim to none."

Wind turbines could even be set up at the Janesville plant, supplying the energy to produce more turbines, Andrews said.

"I think it's cool," Marshick said of wind technology. "I think it's going to save the planet in the long run."

Last updated: 10:47 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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