The Porta School District is looking into whether it makes sense for the district to generate some of its electricity from the wind.
The district recently received an $18,750 grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation for a wind generator feasibility study.
School Superintendent Matt Brue said this week that if the study’s results are favorable, the district could seek bids and build a wind generator that would produce power for Porta High School and possibly Porta Central School.
The district applied for the grant after learning it would see a big jump in energy costs for the junior-senior high building.
Brue said the district typically spends about $110,000 annually to power the all-electric school.
Even after shopping for the best electric rate, the district still will pay about $78,000 more in 2007 to power the high school. And, although Petersburg and Tallula elementary schools and Porta Central School don’t operate solely on electricity, the district overall could have to pay $175,000 to $200,000 more for energy next year, he said.
“Long-term, it could mean many things – reduced program and extracurricular offerings, building consolidations,” he said. “In a money crunch, we have to look at those things. That’s why it’s important that we do everything we can to be as efficient as possible.”
Ameresco Energy Services Co. of Chicago will conduct the study, examining data from local airports and wind studies done by area colleges and universities. A small tower, which would require Federal Aviation Administration approval, also might be erected on school property to measure wind during a three- to four-month period.
Such steps would help determine if there is enough wind to make the turbine project worthwhile, Brue said.
While the study is being done, the district will look at ways to pay for the estimated $1.5- to $2- million wind generator.
“Our goal is to not raise taxes,” he said. “Our goal is to save money for the district.”
The lifespan of a turbine sized for Porta’s needs typically is 25 to 30 years. Paying off the project in 10 years or less would allow the district to keep saving electricity costs for 15 to 20 years, Brue said.
The board will decide if the project is feasible once the study results are available and the financing is resolved. That could take until July, Brue said.
The project itself could take a year to complete, as it generally takes about six months to receive the European-made wind generator.
In addition to the wind generator, school officials are exploring the use of geothermal energy at Porta Central. The district also intends to update the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems at the high school.
“They’re 30 years old – that’s definitely not good,” Brue said.
In 2005, Bureau Valley High School in Manlius became the first school in the state to own a utility-sized wind turbine. The Erie and Sherrard school districts in the Quad Cities area both plan to power some of their buildings via wind, having received grants from the foundation in April.
Brue thinks that, not only could harnessing wind help the district financially, it also might draw more people to the area, because “families will see that we’re trying to grow and be smart with our money.”
“I’m excited about it,” he said.
By Ann Gorman,
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