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Tri-Valley plans wind turbine to power schools

DOWNS – Tri-Valley school colors may be blue and gold, but it may be one of the greenest campuses around with energy-saving programs it is introducing.

The focal point will be a $4 million wind turbine constructed behind the middle school. It is expected to cut the electric bill of the elementary, middle and high schools by about 85 percent, and produce surplus energy.

“The power we don’t use will be sold back,” said Superintendent Brad Cox. The turbine will produce about $100,000 in revenue annually, he said.

Johnson Controls is the turbine project developer. The school board will vote later this month whether to approve about $1.2 million as a a 30 percent downpayment on the project.

“Anybody who has been to Downs knows it’s windy,” said Cox.

Data from the middle school’s weather station collected over the past two years provided proof, along with a professional feasibility study the district commissioned, he said.

Tri-Valley would be the third district in the state to have its own turbine system, said Kirk Heston of Johnson Controls.

“It’s an exciting program,” said Cox.

Officials estimate the system would pay for itself in 12 years and yield a net income of $3 million over the remainder of the turbine’s 30-year design life.

“It’s exciting to have the ability to save money on energy and sell back excess energy,” said board member John Cripe. The plan is of particular interest to Cripe, who manager of energy price risk management for Growmark Inc. in Bloomington.

“It’s a tremendous teaching tool,” said Cox. Elementary students could learn about alternative energy and a physics class could study the log of the turbine, he said.

The turbine is part of the school’s “green plan,” created in cooperation with the Illinois Clean Energy Foundation. The foundation will help fund the efforts, Cox said, which include solar power, a geo-thermal heating and cooling system for the high school, and a corn-powered biomass furnace to heat the administrative offices, he said.

The wind turbine will be about the same height as those at the wind farm in Ellsworth, and would be located behind the middle school. It would have little effect on the sight-line or noise in the area, said Cripe.

Tri-Valley’s location, and having all three schools on one campus, makes an effort like this possible, he said.

The school district isn’t required to hold a hearing for the single turbine, as is required when a wind farm is constructed.

“Most of what I’ve heard is positive,” agreed Cripe. “Sometimes you don’t hear negative until they start digging the hole.”

By Phyllis Coulter


6 August 2007