November 29, 2007

District 88 to discuss wind energy proposal

NEW ULM – The District 88 Board of Education is holding a special meeting at 5:45 p.m. today to consider its involvement in a wind energy project.

The project, to include 20-40 school districts, is managed by Johnson Controls Inc., a company that develops wind energy projects in the state.

Johnson Controls is currently handling the first phase of a wind energy project that includes 14 school districts.

As part of the second phase, which New Ulm is considering joining, the school districts that decide to join would each own shares in a wind farm.

The districts would borrow Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBs), interest-free federal money, to fund the wind turbines.

The bonds are typically repaid over 16 years. The wind farms are set up on land leased typically for 20 years, said Johnson Controls reps.

Each district can own up to 3.3 MW of generating capacity and sell the energy generated. At this time, districts are looking at owning half that capacity.

In return, each district would get revenue from the sale of electricity. Each district’s take at this time is estimated at about $30,000 a year until the bonds are repaid; then at $150,000 to $200,000 a year, according to preliminary projections.

The project has also been touted in terms of environmental stewardship and educational opportunities.

Johnson Controls’ fees have been quoted at 7-8 percent.

District 88 has until Friday, Nov. 30 to decide whether to remain involved in the project, having declared its preliminary interest last summer.

At its last meeting Nov. 19, the board postponed a decision on whether or not to join the project.

Some board members had questions about the potential liability – up to $100,000 for pulling out if the project is deemed financially viable.

Board members wondered who would determine financial viability. They expressed a wish to see more definite language about New Ulm being free from liability if it pulls out but another district steps in its place.

Board members were also somewhat concerned about wading into uncharted waters, by becoming owners of a wind farm.

The special meeting today immediately precedes a board retreat with the principals to plan budget and other issues.

By Kremena Spengler

The Journal

29 November 2007

URL to article: