In the western classic “The Magnificent Seven,” Steve McQueen is facing the business end of a revolver and several rifles when he’s asked why he had teamed up with a group of peasant farmers, some of whom ultimately betrayed him and his six gunslinging partners.
His deadpan response: “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
Fortunately, it appears that the seven-member Rochester School Board won’t face a similar moment, now that they’ve backed out of a proposal that would have involved the district in the creation of a new wind-energy farm.
It seemed like a good idea at the time, which was last year. The district, supposedly at no financial risk, would team up with developer Johnson Controls and more than 20 other school districts statewide to become owners of a 10- to 20-megawatt wind farm. The schools would send a positive message by becoming stakeholders in the growing clean-energy movement, and down the road it was possible that some financial windfalls would come Rochester’s way.
But the devil’s in the details, and it didn’t take long for serious doubts to arise about the project. Almost from day one, the funding mechanism for the wind farm has been puzzling to the point of being inexplicable, as have Johnson Controls’ claims that the district would likely make a little money while incurring no financial risk.
There’s no such thing as a sure thing, and claims to the contrary deserve serious scrutiny.
An incomplete business plan from Johnson Controls didn’t stand up to such close examination, which is why in November the board kept its powder dry, telling the developer that the district was interested but needed more information before making a financial commitment.
When more details were put on the table last month, school board members didn’t like what they saw, particularly a new funding mechanism that was supposedly meant to reduce the financial risk for the schools.
The board’s response was priceless in its simplicity: If there was no financial risk in the first place, why did it need to be reduced? And what would be the district’s future financial responsibilities and liabilities regarding the project?
There were too many unresolved issues surrounding the proposal, and the board – for now we’ll call it Rochester’s own “magnificent seven” – was wise to pull the district’s $100,000 buy-in off the table.
That money will buy a lot of energy-efficient light bulbs.
8 February 2008
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