RED LODGE — Kate Belinda needs your vote, but she’s not running for office.
She is competing against 15 other teachers around the country for a chance to win a $100,000 grant through the Dream Big Teachers Challenge, sponsored by Farmers Insurance.
If Belinda is chosen, the 15 students on Red Lodge High School’s Green Team, which she advises, will use the money to erect a wind turbine on school property, shrinking the school’s carbon footprint and saving the school an estimated $15,000 a year in energy costs.
“I am kind of the face of it, but it’s not about me,” Belinda said. “It’s really the Green Team that’s doing it.”
Farmers Insurance received several hundred applications in this year’s competition and selected 15 finalists. Six of those finalists will receive $100,000 grants based on online voting that will take place during October.
Belinda, who is in her seventh year as a teacher at Red Lodge High, said she wasn’t told who the other finalists were, but she heard she’s the only one in Montana. She’s hoping people across the state will pull together and push the Green Team’s project, “Harvesting the Wind,” over the top in the online voting.
Videos about each of the 15 finalists and their projects will be posted on the Farmers Insurance website on Oct. 1, and people will be able to vote for as many of the finalists as they choose, but they can cast only one vote per teacher per day throughout the month.
The high school’s Green Team has already accomplished much since its founding four years ago. In 2014, it won first place in a statewide Green School Challenge sponsored by the Montana chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council for its attempt to eliminate waste at sporting events by introducing recyclable drinking cups.
Last year it won a $42,500 grant from NorthWestern Energy to install solar panels on the high school roof. Last May, the team had just finished raising $7,500 in matching donations from the Red Lodge community for that project when Belinda learned of the Farmers Insurance competition.
Irene Belvin, the Farmers agent in Red Lodge, saw to it that all teachers in Red Lodge knew of the competition and were given applications. As it turned out, Belinda, the Green Team adviser, had a project in mind.
A few weeks earlier, she was attending a local dance recital and got into a conversation with Larry Freeman, a Red Lodge resident who works for EDF Renewable Energy, which is based in San Diego. He said the company was decommissioning a wind farm and would be donating used turbines to schools and hospitals around the country.
“It’s all about local connections,” Belinda said.
She worked with the Green Team to develop the details of the project and submitted her proposal at the end of June. After she found out her project was one of the 15 finalists, a film crew sent by Farmers Insurance visited Red Lodge on Aug. 30 to prepare the minute-and-a-half video that will be posted on the Farmers website.
This fall, three members of the Green Team—Addie Poore, Fran Graham and Emma Clinton, all seniors—are taking an independent study class led by Belinda to do even more work on the project.
They have been working with Katelynn Essig, the sustainability coordinator for the city of Red Lodge, to obtain the necessary permitting from the city, including a height variance because the turbine would exceed the 30-foot maximum by at least 50 feet.
They have also been doing research to determine the best spot to place the turbine while working to make it as quiet and unobtrusive as possible. If they win the grant, they will be involved in developing a work proposal and evaluating the companies bidding to work on the project.
Clinton also attended a City Council meeting to present an overview of the project and won a pledge of support from the city.
Belinda, who teaches earth science, environmental science and advanced biology and chemistry, said having the wind turbine on campus would be a great learning experience for students in math, science and Career Technical Education classes.
It will also further the school’s commitment to sustainable practices and projects. In addition to the solar collectors, which are scheduled to be installed next summer, the high school has greenhouses and a chicken coop on campus.
Once voting opens on Oct. 1, there will be plenty of encouragement in Red Lodge and around the state to cast votes for the Harvesting the Wind project.
“It will just be a social media frenzy,” Belinda promised.