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Schools, Light Department eye joint wind project  

IPSWICH – One department has the money but lacks easily used land and a well-defined plan. The other has a completed plan and good land but can’t get the money.

A merger seems obvious, and it looks like that will continue to be explored.

Schools Superintendent Rick Korb has been touting the benefits of a wind turbine electricity generator for more than a year. He believes a wind turbine could supply all the electrical needs of the middle and high schools, which share a building, and even sell surplus electricity to the grid.

Meanwhile, the town has been contemplating building a wind turbine at the end of Town Farm Road. Its financial feasibility, however, depended on obtaining Clean Renewable Energy Bonds, which are no-interest federal loans – and this project was rejected for them twice.

Korb, on the other hand, found out early this year that the schools are eligible for a $1.6 million grant.

His original idea was to put a generator on school-owned land near the middle/high school campus. Electric Light Subcommittee member Jim Engel and Utilities Director Tim Henry recently met with the School Committee to say there might be a better way to go.

First, Engel said, data about wind speed and frequency may be suspect, since they were collected on Town Farm Road, not the high school. Second, he said, there could be significant permitting problems at the school, and there are more neighbors who might raise objections.

Finally, this is a use-it-or-lose-it grant; if the bonds aren’t sold by the end of the year, the grant disappears. But the school plan is so preliminary at this point, he said, that it would be difficult to design a good project in so little time.

One solution would be to build the generator on the town site. That project is already designed, he said, and the permitting issues are better understood.

Electricity generated by the turbine would first reduce the electric bill at the schools; any surplus would offset how many kilowatt hours the town has to buy from the grid. Engel estimated the schools would realize savings of about $2.5 million, while the Light Department would save just over $500,000.

There’s another economic benefit to clean energy projects. Commercial electricity generators are required to have renewable energy sources as part of their energy portfolios. To meet that need, they can purchase what are known as renewable energy credits from generators, such as this project, that have excess power.

If that worked out, the schools could save up to $3.4 million, he estimated, and the town nearly $2 million.

Engel said the fact that the schools were awarded the clean energy bonds attracted the Light Department to the project.

“The fact that the schools are sitting there with $1.6 million, it’s kind of one of those, ‘If you’ve got the money, honey, I’ve got the time,’ things.”

The Light Department would have to borrow $2.6 million to build the wind turbine. The next challenge will be successful votes authorizing bonding at Town Meeting and Town Election, which are both looming in mid-May.

By Steve Landwehr
Staff writer

The Salem News

17 March 2008

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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