Thursday, August 26, 2010

Wind Turbine: Blowing $ at the Wind?

In a recent Daily Egyptian story, the "Green Fund" on campus, funded by a $10 student fee, boasted of a wind turbine that would cost $6 million and save $9 million for the university.

This story didn't pass the smell test on several counts:

First, the student fee raises $200,000 (approx.) per year. At that rate, it would take 30 years to accrue $6 million dollars.

Second, the "Green Fund" web site has no link that I could find to its "feasibility study." I emailed for more information but have yet to hear back from the Fund or the reporter who did the story.

I did find the following:
"Wind Power

In 2007 PSO began a study to determine the feasibility of constructing a wind power generation facility on campus. Preliminary performance estimates support a 2.5 megawatt turbine, which could reduce our main campus electric purchases from AmerenCIPS by 4%. This reduction amounts to an annual purchase offset of 3,547,800 kWh, saving nearly $225,000 per year in electrical cost at our current rates. Assuming that electric rates track inflation, the present value of the energy savings over the 30-year projected life of the turbine would be approximately $6,750,000."
Here the cost savings are not $9 million but $6.75 million over thirty years! Factor in inflation and the ROI (return on investment) is probably negative -- assuming that these forecasts are accurate.

Third, no one has asked the Jerry Maguire question: "Show me the money!"

Where is SIUC going to get $6 million? A long-term bond? Add the interest to the cost of this project. "Free" money from the federal government? When the federal government has NO money other than that it borrows from the Chinese or effectively prints?

So far, the SIU Green Fund has stuck with conservation and avoided the radicalization of other "Sustainability" programs. All to the good.

However, before the SIU Board of Trustees signs off on six million bond or federal grant, let's ask some hard questions about this project.

I'm happy to post the comments of any one involved with the Green Fund. Fire away!

Monday, August 9, 2010

University Posts Course Syllabi Online

The Pope Center posts a column on how a North Carolina university is posting all course syllabi for students to review before choosing their courses.

Three years ago, I made the same recommendation in the Daily Egyptian and -whoa! -- the furious response: "Pandering to the peons" (students)! "This is one step closer to McCarthyism!" Sheesh. Posting syllabi online is proto-fascist? Get a grip.

Seems this common sense proposal is spreading -- and worth considering (again) here at Southern Illinois University. As a former academic adviser, this was one of those legitimate student complaints ("the course didn't match the catalog description!"). All I could recommend was trying to request syllabi (past or present) for a course. But you know if a professor (me) gets toasted for recommending it, imagine the fate of a freshman requesting "please, Professor, may I see the syllabus for the course?"

Post the syllabi with the proviso that it may be changed or updated at the discretion of the instructor. This isn't rocket science. It is good manners.

For professors, it is also a great rebuttal to unfounded student complaints that there is "too much reading" or "too much writing" (whine): "Hey, kid, you knew what you were signing up for when you read the syllabus. Now get to work!"

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Billionaires Back Free Textbook Movement

In 2009, I blogged on the budding movement for open-source and free textbooks coming on the market. The latter (commercially free) often hope to make money by charging for the printing of online texts.

The movement has moved ahead sluggishly with little financial support.

Enter two tech billionaires: the founders of Sun Microsystems--Scott McNealy and Vinod Khosia. They are devoting their philanthropy to replacing the $200 textbook with free alternatives AND getting these texts accredited by California and Texas, the two "gatekeepers" of the textbook publishing market (K-12).

Look for rapid movement at the K-12 level and some progress in the college textbook market. Whether the textbook oligopoly can block competition with political influence is another matter.

For more, see