Area teen harnesses the wind
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BELLINGHAM – The same week BP turned off the spigot at Prudhoe Bay, creating economic chaos for Alaska and cutting off eight percent of the nation’s oil supply, recent high school graduate Kevin Gowan gathered a group of friends and supporters at the end of a GP dock in Bellingham Bay. The same brisk wind that provided plenty of force for a spirited regatta out on the water, sent the propellers on Gowan’s wind turbine rotating at a furious pace, creating enough electricity to light up two spotlights nailed to the dock.

Amidst dire warnings about the likelihood of yet another boost in oil prices, Gowan urged his audience to think outside the pipeline.

“There are places in the state where wind turbines compete with natural gas,” Gowan told the group.

The wind turbine project served as Gowan’s senior culminating project at Bellingham High School this past year. But his passion for wind power began when he was a fifth grader and his family visited the State Line Wind Farm in Walla Walla. “I remember saying, ‘Wow, those things are cool looking!’” said Gowan.

In ninth grade, Gowan built a small model wind turbine that would light up one light bulb. When the requirement for the culminating project came up, there was no doubt in his mind as to what he would do.

Although Gowan understood what would be required technically, “I had no idea how many hoops I’d have to go through,” he said. Each step of the process involved seemingly endless numbers of approvals from a variety of sources, and consultations with more than 20 individuals and organizations to find out things like where the windiest place in the city was, and how to build a tower that could fold down to ground level for adjustments and maintenance. Area sailors were able to answer both questions. Next came fundraising. Eventually, Public Utilities District #1 gave Gowan $4,000, and the Bonneville Power Administration, $3,000. Local businesses donated the components to build the tower and electrical system. Others provided the invaluable moral support to keep Gowan going when yet another obstacle appeared.

As the result of his project, Gowan has received several scholarships that will enable him to attend Washington State University this fall, where he intends to major in electrical engineering within the renewable energy industry. He also has a summer job offer from a Seattle company that could lead to a permanent job upon graduation. At some point, Gowan also plans to travel to Europe to study successful wind-powered installations and work with Engineers Without Borders to set up electrical systems in third world countries.

“Kevin’s project should be an inspiration to other kids,” said Gowan’s proud father, Mike. “If you have a passion for what you do and the determination to do what it takes to complete it, that passion can fuel your future goals.

“Kevin is a very bright, competent kid,” said Dana Brandt of Ecotech Energy Systems who worked closely with Gowan on the project. “This is a great day for him.”

“If I ever had the opportunity to do this project over again, I would,” Gowan wrote in his written reflection, a requirement for his project. “The struggles throughout the wind turbine project pale in comparison to the benefits I have reaped.”