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Ballinger ISD eyes wind power to lower costs  

Scot Goen is banking that the wind will blow – and that it will blow enough to turn the 72-foot blades of a 180-foot-tall wind turbine enough to cut the Ballinger Independent School District’s monthly electric bill at least in half.

Goen, the district’s superintendent, said his school system of 1,000 students is proceeding with plans to erect a turbine on land the district owns near the high school just northwest of town.

It just makes good financial sense, Goen said Friday.

“If we had a 20 mph wind, we would be generating more electricity than we would be consuming,” he said, noting projections are the wind turbine would generate “50 to 60 percent” of the district’s average $22,000 monthly electric bill.

On June 3, representatives of Matney-Frantz Engineering in Austin will be in Ballinger to explain whether the project “will pencil out.”

“Indications are it is,” Goen said. “If everything works as planned, we will install a 750-kilowatt hours turbine this summer and will be generating the majority of our own electricity beginning next school year.”

In December, the district was awarded $1 million in Clean Renewable Energy Bonds to pay for the project.

If erected, Ballinger ISD will join four Panhandle region districts – Dawson, Shallowater, Morton and Crosbyton – as the only school systems in Texas utilizing wind turbines to generate electricity, he said.

“I think we’re going to set the tone, and we’re going to have a lot of school districts follow suit,” Goen said, pointing out that he, along with Shallowater’s superintendent, will be making a presentation to the Texas Association of School Boards in September about the positives of wind turbines.

Ruben Longoria, assistant director for governmental relations for TASB, said he expects districts to explore such measures, especially with the high price of fuel and energy consumption increasing.

“This is a great opportunity,” Longoria said. “I think they’ll start considering wind energy and possibly look into solar (energy) as it becomes more prominent, available and affordable.”

Currently, Ballinger ISD is in the process of purchasing a “remanufactured” or overhauled turbine estimated at $600,000 from Kansas, making plans to ship it for $20,000, and negotiating how much the district will be paid if the wind turbine produces more electricity than it needs in a particular month, Goen said.

“When we’re overproducing, we want a fair price,” he said. “There will be some months when we’re overproducing and selling back to the (state) grid.”

Goen said Ballinger ISD is negotiating with Direct Energy, the parent company of its current utility provider West Texas Utilities, on a contract that is scheduled to end in 16 months.

“We still have to have a utility provider because the wind doesn’t blow 24/7,” he said. “It all hinges on what we get for our overproduction and that resource – the wind blowing.”

According to “wind maps,” Goen said Runnels County is in a “marginal area … right on the fringe” but that three anemometers – which measure wind speed – set up in Runnels County for January through March revealed an average wind of 20 mph, a sufficient wind for the district’s purposes.

“These turbines generally start rotating at 7 to 9 mile per hour wind,” he said, while “the maximum efficiency (for them) is a 22 to 23 mph wind.”

In addition to purchasing the turbine and getting it to Ballinger, Goen said a 36 square-foot concrete foundation will have to be poured and then buried to hold up the massive structure.

Even so, the proposed turbine would be smaller than the 300-foot-tall turbines with 90- to 120-foot blades in the Abilene and Sweetwater areas, he said, but larger than the much smaller turbines in the other four Texas school districts with windmills.

Meanwhile, Goen said, the wind turbine will help meet the requirements of House Bill 3693 passed in the last session of the Texas Legislature. The law requires school districts to prepare a plan to reduce their utility consumption by 5 percent annually over the next six years.

“This is one of the methods that we’re going to use to satisfy that requirement,” he said. “This will more than take care of ours.”

Additionally, he said, the district plans to make buildings more energy efficient when they are built and when they are renovated.

“In 10 years, we’re going to be a very energy efficient school facility,” Goen said.

By Doug Myers

Abilene Reporter-News

16 May 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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