FILLMORE — Utah's newest and largest wind farm has blown in its first Utah scholarship recipient, providing her with $3,000 to go to college.
As students from Millard High School, nicknamed the "wind kids," farmed the initial interest in wind energy in the area from Boston-based First Wind, the company started a competitive scholarship program to sort of pay them back.
"It was the ingenuity shown by a local teacher and his students that played a big role in making the Milford Wind Corridor a reality in the first place," said Carol Grant, senior vice president of external affairs at First Wind. "This scholarship represents our support for young people who show interest in and the capacity to contribute in the fields of environment, energy and science."
Kelsey Mitchell, a senior at Millard High School, will be taking her award to nearby Southern Utah University, where she plans to study forensic science.
"I would love to work in a lab but not in a hospital — more like a crime scene," she said. "It helps to catch the bad guys."
Mitchell, 17, likes to solve problems, including those that affect people's lives.
More than a dozen students helped Millard High engineering and technology instructor Andy Swapp calculate data from the first turbine set up in the area, resulting in many inquiries from wind energy businesses across the country. Swapp had been plowing a field and noticed that dust from the ground had sand-blasted the paint on his barn.
"That's when I said, 'There's power in the wind here,' " he said.
Swapp set up a small turbine to help power his farm, and from there, it has grown to include 97 wind turbines with the capacity to generate clean, renewable energy to power approximately 45,000 homes per year in Southern California. To date, the project, which became operational in November, has created more than 250 development and construction jobs and resulted in more than $85 million in economic benefit to Utah.
"It's a way to add to our economic development and still maintain our rural way of life," Linda Clark Gilmore, economic development director for Millard County, said in a prepared statement. "It shows that wind has value, and we're glad somebody wants to purchase that."
Mitchell was the 2008 winner of a separate $2,000 scholarship from the EnergySolutions Foundation, which honors sophomores in the area who intend to seek degrees in math, science and engineering. The application process for that and for the First Wind program were both rigorous and highly competitive.
First Wind officials have said Mitchell was selected based on a number of factors, including academic performance, standardized test scores, community service and a 300-word essay on the subject of climate change. A statement announcing their selection said Mitchell, the program's first scholarship recipient, had been a leader both in the classroom as well as outside, "where she has been active in student government, athletics, the National Honor Society and the Governor's Youth Council."
"We congratulate Kelsey, and we are very proud that one of our students was the first to receive this scholarship," said Millard High School Principal Dennis Alldredge. "Kelsey is a terrific young woman with a great future ahead of her."
Mitchell said she likely will spend four years at SUU. If not for the scholarship money, college would be a lot harder to come by, she said, although it was always in her plans.
"I want to get an education so I can help people," Mitchell said. "I want to make a difference and help others."