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May 15, 2019
Paul Gipe

Gipe Receives Distinguished Alumni Award for His "Notoriety" in Wind Energy


On 26 April 2019 the alumni association of the Natural Resources and Environmental Management Department at my alma mater, Ball State University, presented me with its Award of Distinction, the association's highest honor.

The alumni association contacted me earlier this year to congratulate me on being selected for NREM's Distinguished Alumnus Award. Their congratulatory message said that I was chosen for my work and "notoriety" in the field of wind energy. That certainly piqued my curiosity. After all, it's not every day you're noted for you notoriety. My critics would have been quick to suggest "notorious" as a better description. ;)

After confirming that the message was legitimate and not a hoax, I learned that the awards banquet marked the 50th anniversary of the department. Thus, the event was an important milestone in the department's history and I began making plans to attend.

I graduated 46 years ago with a degree in Natural Resources. I knew the department was young when I was there, but I didn't realize how young. Since then the department has expanded its course offerings to include environmental management.

The award was presented at a banquet held in the Ball Brothers Foundation Hospitality Suite, a recently added addition to Emens Auditorium. Members of my family as well as long-time friends from college were present to share the event with me. I wore my best windmill tie for the occasion.

The event included a slide show of the recipients' careers. I've been working in wind energy for a long time and I am used to promoting myself. So, when the organizers asked if I had some photos of me I could share, the question was not do I have any, but "How many do you need?"

What I didn't know is that they liked them so much they used every image I sent them. From the clean-shaven guy addressing 10,000 people at the first anniversary of Three Mile Island, to the scruffy guy in a grimy Select Sires ball cap sitting on crates of salvage windchargers, to the gray-haired guy in a suit addressing the pinnacle of the wind world: Husum Germany's grand exhibition, they used them all. My family and friends had never seen these photos before and were dutifully surprised.

I was part of a unique group at Ball State at a unique time in history. We thought we could change the world and, in fact, had an obligation to do so. While we failed in many of our objectives, we did make a dent in creating a better world.

We were part of a successful effort in Indiana to ban the sale of phosphate-containing detergents. They said it couldn't be done. Proctor & Gamble, based in Cincinnati, was figuratively just down the street from the politicians in Indianapolis. We did it, and soon others states followed Indiana's progressive policy--yes, Indiana and the word "progressive" in the same sentence. Now it's just taken for granted that phosphates shouldn't be in detergent. Today's students may ask, "Why would they be?"

We were also part of a successful effort--as college students--in the passage of the Surface Mining Act at the federal level--twice. (We had to do it all over again after President Gerald Ford vetoed the original bill.) We stalked the halls of Congress in our hiking boots, field jackets, bell bottoms, and long hair. Again, they said it couldn't be done, but we and a host of others did it. Today's students have no idea what we are even talking about.

It was that campaign against strip mining of coal that led me to a career in renewable energy when an old pol said to me in a public hearing, "Son, that solar and wind energy you talk about just doesn't exist." He called my bluff because at the time he was right. So I, and again many others, set out to make renewable energy a reality. And today it is. You can't go anywhere in North America without seeing a wind turbine or a solar panel somewhere. Why, wind turbines are even now visible from my mother's place in central Indiana and there's a solar farm in the nearby village. Our opponents said it would never happen. It did.

Yet the work is never done. There wasn't a solar panel to be found on the Ball State campus and never mind looking for a wind turbine when I went there for my award. Though the university has successfully developed the largest ground-source heat pump system in North America, they have overlooked so much low-hanging fruit. Just outside the recently remodeled auditorium is a futuristic pergola covering the walkway--a perfect application for solar. Yet somehow BSU blew the opportunity and the pergola is just an empty shell when it could have been so much more. Similarly, the campus touts its use of electric vehicles as part of its sustainability plan. Again, there's nary an EV on campus, though the occasional student may drive one.

Naturally, I couldn't let such an affront to modernity go unchallenged. I complimented the school on its pioneering heating and cooling system, but chided them that they could--and should--do so much more. Unfortunately, I was speaking to the choir, the Natural Resources Department, they get it, but the president of the university and his minions were nowhere to be seen.

I guess I added to my notoriety, at least on the BSU campus.

 

 


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