WRAY – The school district here set out several years ago to put up a small wind turbine and save money on electricity. This developed into a plan to provide some electricity for the community, as well as the school.
Five years later, the Wray School District is now owner of the largest wind turbine used by any school district in the world. The tower is rated at 900 kilowatts. This compares to the available small wind turbines usually considered by a school, individual or small business. These are rated anywhere from about one up to 250 kilowatts per hour.
The Wray turbine is projected to produce 4 million kilowatt hours per year.
The tower was dedicated Feb. 15 in a ribbon-cutting ceremony with Gov. Bill Ritter. The school district has developed a curriculum for the elementary children based on the wind turbine, and two of them read their essays at the dedication.
On March 5, Wray hosted a wind energy workshop focused on small wind turbines for rural enterprises and communities. The workshop started off with a tour of the school district’s wind turbine. Ron Howard, Wray School superintendent, then told participants about the five-year process they went through to develop the wind turbine project.
Paying for the project
Figuring out how to finance the project was an endeavor in itself. The previous school superintendent, Dr. Jim McCabe, had secured a $350,000 grant. And before him, Superintendent Mark Taylor had obtained a $12,000 grant to be awarded to teachers who had innovative ideas for renewable energy.
At the workshop, Heidi Hillman talked to participants about the steps to successful grant writing.
Anyone applying for a grant needs to have a clear plan of how the money would be used. She cautioned against “chasing the funding.”
“Find a grant that fits what you are doing,” Hillman said, rather than looking at what is out there and easy to find.
Make sure you have all the pieces of your plan in place before you start, she said.
She described some of the things that people commonly believe to be true about grants, but that are not.
Grants are not free money, she said. And grants are not easy to get and manage. They always have strings attached. The federal government, particularly, keeps you accountable, she said.
Once the grant is secured, the money is not just put in your checking account either. Hillman said that instead, you usually have to spend the money up front and then apply for reimbursement.
When applying, remember that negotiation doesn’t exist with the federal government. Be specific with your grant application, so that the readers, the grant awarders, will understand what you plan to do.
“Paint a picture,” Hillman said. It also helps to provide letters of support for the project.
Applying for the grant is actually the easy part. Implementing it is the hard part. And Hillman described wrapping up the paperwork when the project is finished as the boring part.
The Wray school district received a great deal of additional funding besides the grant, Howard said.
The city of Wray and the local Kitzmiller Foundation gave generously to the project. The renewable energy credits were paid up front.
The school district voters approved a mil levy override and passed a bond for $7.75 million. With careful effort, the district managed to purchase about $9 million worth of “stuff,” Howard said, and they have very good bond interest.
The city of Wray paid $200,000 for the land on a hilltop above Wray High School as a site for the wind tower. The city then gave the land to the district in perpetuity – as long as there is a wind tower on it.
Obtaining the land use permit and approval from the Federal Aviation Administration went smoothly, Howard said. The wildlife and environmental impact study also went well. An interconnect agreement was needed between the school district and the city, so this was set up as a power purchase agreement.
More difficult was figuring out how to get the generated power to the grid so that the excess energy produced could be sold. There was a lot involved with this, Howard said. The school district decided now that it is time to have a project coordinator. They hired Brent Orr, owner of the company Wind to Wire.
The total cost of the project has come to about $1.85 million.
“And we’re not quite finished,” Howard said.
They are waiting for the electrical connection to the control panel, he said. They also still need certification from the state of Colorado.
Maintenance on the wind turbine should be low, as the generator is not gear-driven. Workshop speaker Trudy Forsyth said that some of the small wind turbines are still operating after 60 years.
Howard said that the current wisdom says not to buy extended warranties, but the district purchased three on their wind turbine, and can buy two more if they want. With an investment this large, they believed it was expedient to have the warranties.
The district had to get a phone line to the computer, as the program is to be connected to the generator manufacturer in Holland for the first year. American Wind Energy in Canada will provide the power converter, which will be run through Canada for the first five years. Then it will be Wray’s responsibility.
What to do differently
Workshop participants asked Howard what they would do differently if they had the wind turbine project to do over again.
“We’re not intending to build another one,” Howard said with a laugh.
First, he said, you might do better by having a business plan up front and someone to oversee it. Appoint one person, he suggested.
Second, know your timeline, Howard said. Allow some lead time on delivery and site preparation.
Third, build in an allowance for delays, he said, because they will happen.
“You can’t just order one from Sears and Roebuck and put it up on your hill,” Howard told the audience. “There’s a lot to the process.”
By Carol Barrett
Journal-Advocate agriculture editor
10 March 2008
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