Thursday, August 24th, 2006
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.
That’s what Charlie Schneider, a Focus on Energy specialist working with northern Wisconsin school districts, told the Phillips School Board Monday night regarding a wind farm proposal.
The idea is for school districts to sign on to a bond issue for construction of seven wind turbines, at a yet-to-be-determined site in the region, which would eventually serve the energy needs of all the schools in the program.
The power that is expected to be generated by the farm, approximately 14 megawatts, would not feed directly to participating school districts. It would be sold to power companies, and the proceeds would be used to fund schools’ energy needs. Surplus profits would be available for other school spending.
Johnson Controls is supporting the project with a performance guarantee for participating school districts. And the federal government will pay the interest on the bonds.
Project managers are targeting the commercial sector for bond sales, especially enterprises that want environmentally-friendly investments in their portfolios. They would get the additional benefit of supporting school districts, Schneider said. Tax credits would also be available for whoever purchases the so-called CREB notes. CREB is the acronym for Clean Renewable Energy Bonds.
The Internal Revenue Service, which was flooded out of its Washington, D.C. offices this summer during heavy rains, is late in reviewing districts’ applications to participate in the bond issue. That is one of the last procedural hurdles to getting the project off the ground. Fifteen northern districts, including Eau Claire, Superior and Gilman, have committed.
Phillips has yet to sign on.
There has been a thinly veiled skepticism among local officials with respect to the wind farm plan, which has been pitched as a no-risk, high return enterprise.
Monday night, David Flessert questioned whether income from the farm would count under state-imposed revenue caps. There was no clear answer given. Officials said attorneys are working on that issue.
And then there is the most obvious variable ““ the wind. But Schneider said as long as the wind blows, it’s a can’t-miss proposition.
“We’re getting into this at the right time,” he said, citing the volatile fossil-fuel market. “… And it’s the right thing to do.”
The project also has clear educational applications, Schneider argued.
The four proposed sites in the state do not include Price County or surrounding counties. Officials said a wind-farm project of this magnitude must be sited near an interstate for delivery of the massive parts and near a major transmission line so the mills have clear access to the power grid.
Schneider said with no change to the state funding system in sight, districts that are in tough financial times ““ such as Phillips ““ are going to have to think outside the box.
“Schools are going to have to be creative with the ways they finance themselves,” he said.
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