A group of 14 Minnesota school districts could bolster their budgets by about $340,000 a year if House legislation authorizing school boards to form wind-generated electricity businesses becomes law.
H.F. 4005, authored by state Rep. David Bly, DFL-Northfield, would authorize the 14-school- district Minnesota Schools Wind Energy Cooperative (MSWEC) to sell electricity from a south Minnesota wind farm to utilities.
If H.F. 4005 is made into law, Milwaukee, Wis.-based Johnson Controls Inc., a $32 billion manufacturer of automotive interiors and building controls, will build a 25-megawatt wind farm 10 miles north of Austin to provide the energy for the MSWEC schools to sell.
Johnson Controls would pay to develop the wind farm, which would cost about $2 million per megawatt, or $50 million.
“What we’re trying to do is do the right thing,” said Michael David, an account executive with Johnson Controls’ local offices in Plymouth. The firm’s wind energy project for MSWEC is the first such effort in Minnesota.
“Financially, schools are looking for innovative ways to add revenue,” David said.
He estimated that the 25-megawatt wind farm Johnson Controls plans to start building by late 2009 or 2010 could generate 80 million kilowatt hours a year.
In turn, each kilowatt hour could be resold to utilities for about 6 cents per kilowatt hour, or an annual total of $4.8 million, according to David.
That translates to an average of $340,000 a year for MSWEC members at a time when funding for schools increasingly has been squeezed.
Bly’s legislation, co-authored by state Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter, would allow single school boards or a group of school boards acting together to partner in a limited liability company to build and operate a wind farm.
On March 14, the bill was laid over for inclusion in an omnibus finance bill by the K-12 Finance Division, according to Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, who chairs the House panel.
Greiling said an omnibus finance bill is possible because state lawmakers must adjust funding to allow for a projected $935 million budget shortfall for the two-year period ending June 30, 2009.
Johnson Controls Inc. began intensifying its presence in the renewable energy field in 2007, and started offering to build wind turbines with school districts, which are current or prospective users of the company’s building controls products, David said.
“School districts everywhere are being asked what they are doing to invest in green or renewable energy,” David said. “And there’s an educational component that shows that their district embraces renewable technology.”
Districts in MSWEC include Brainerd, Chisago Lakes, Edgerton, Elk River, Faribault, Hastings, New Prague, Northfield, St. Peter, Truman, Wabasso, Watertown-Mayer, Winona and Zumbrota-Mazeppa.
The company is still trying to decide what kind of wind turbine to buy for this project. That decision has been made more difficult by the weakness of the U.S. dollar versus the Euro, David said.
by Bob Geiger
17 March 2008
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