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MISHAWAKA – Winds coming from the south and west of School City of Mishawaka could make energy-producing turbines a winning situation here, based on a report released this week to the board of school trustees.
School City has been working with Michigan-based Alternate Energy Solutions Inc. in gathering 12 months’ worth of data to determine whether wind turbines are feasible for generating electricity here, rather than buying it. The district currently dishes out half a million dollars a year in electricity bills, officials said, and experts say electric utility rates are on the rise.
“Many schools are starting to do this,” Alternate Energy Solutions President John Wolar told the board of school trustees, who got a first look at the numbers Tuesday. “In Indiana, you are perhaps the first.”
Alternate Energy Solutions, during the yearlong study, monitored wind using a 164-foot meteorological tower at the southwest corner of Inwood Road and Ireland Trail, on property designated as residential land but currently used for farming. The tower and consulting fees reached about $10,000.
Based on the study from November 2006 to 2007, officials are confident they can produce at least 20 percent “capacity factor” (used to calculate the amount of energy that could be captured by a 1 million watt wind turbine). That 20 percent capacity factor produces 1,752 megawatt-hours per year – about one-fifth of the total energy the school district currently uses each year, Wolar said.
That means the district could set up five machines on the outskirts of the city to produce the amount needed in a year, among other options, Wolar said. The numbers this week are very preliminary, he added, with the likelihood being that the district could produce an even higher capacity factor of between 22 percent and 24 percent.
School officials are eyeing an implementation date of March 2009 and currently are looking at a couple of locations south of town, business manager Randy Squadroni said. Land to the south of U.S. 20 has good development potential, Wolar said, but “that’s a big paint brush that we drew there, and it may or may not end up being there.”
If the turbines are higher than what accessory structures in that zoning district are allowed to be, the school district would have to get a developmental variance with the Board of Zoning Appeals, Mishawaka City Plan Department associate planner Peg Strantz said Wednesday. First Federal Savings Bank on West Edison Road earlier this year had to get a variance to set up their turbines.
“So far, so good,” board member Lloyd Wayne said Wednesday regarding the turbine study results. “When the time comes, we’ll keep our eye on it, but everything to date has been in the direction that it’s a feasible thing to do. … If we can save money, we surely want to do that.”
One option for School City also is to put the energy back into the power grid and sell it to utility companies, Squadroni said.
Wolar added that the newer technologies have less likelihood of collecting and throwing ice. If the school board approves a more involved study in January or February, Alternate Energy Solutions would look at historical data from the past 25 years and compare it with the latest information. Other studies include a study on wind turbine effects on bird activity, he said.
The school district could pay the turbines off roughly over 12 years, Squadroni said, with the turbines having a 25- or 30-year-long life span. The new energy source should not raise taxes, he said.
The school district earlier this year also filed an application with the U.S. Treasury for an allocation to issue up to $1 million of Clean Renewable Energy Bonds to help with the turbine project. Officials should know whether they will get the bonds in the next 30 to 60 days, Wolar said.
That arrangement would allow for a 12-year payback on the interest-free bonds, he said.
Tribune Staff Writer
15 December 2007
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