Environmental initiatives started in earnest at the University of Minnesota, Morris campus thanks to an unusually high spike of fuel prices from 2000 to 2001.
Since then, UMM has embarked on several projects to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels and move the campus to more renewable forms of energy while also providing research opportunities into the “green” initiatives.
To continue its focus, UMM currently is bolstering its environmental initiatives by applying for bonds to help finance several projects. The hope is that by the spring of 2009, all of the green projects will be completed, according to Lowell Rasmussen, Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities and Finance.
Four applications were submitted to the Internal Revenue Service for the Clean Renewable Energy Bonds, or CREB. These bonds come from the Clean Policy Act of 2005, and the goal of the act, according to the IRS, is to provide ways for communities and institutions to produce cleaner, more economical energy.
At UMM, the CREB funds are being used to produce or plan wind power projects and energy initiatives related to the university’s biomass burner.
And the university is under time constraints. UMM is experiencing difficulties obtaining wind turbines and a Dec. 31 deadline looms to use the CREB money. If it can’t be allocated by the end of the year, it must be returned to the IRS, Rasmussen said.
That’s a situation the university would dearly love to avoid because of the value of CREB.
The bonds act as special type of “tax credit bond,” according to the Environmental Law and Policy Center, which provides for rural electric cooperatives and municipal electric utilities, which is the equivalent of an interest-free loan for financing qualified energy projects.
Four applications for the CREB bonds were submitted last year, with each application covering a different project. Last summer, UMM’s applications were accepted.
Now, it’s a matter of patience as the projects are implemented.
The West Central Research and Outreach Center submitted the first application for photovoltaic, solar powered energy converters, and a small residential wind turbine to power the WCROC administrative building. Funding for a planned addition to the WCROC was approved the the Minnesota Legislature this winter, and the new building will be outfitted for conversion to “green” energy practices.
“The intent is to use these systems to demonstrate how to use renewable energy to power a single building,” Rasmussen said. “The 2008 bonding bill included an addition to the WCROC administrative building and the CREB bonds seemed to be an opportunity to make this addition renewably powered.”
The second application was for a steam turbine at UMM’s heating plant that will be used to provide electrical power for the campus, Rasmussen said.
“It is significant because we can use this system to replace electricity when the wind turbines are not running,” he said.
With this added source of electricity, the carbon footprint of the university will be reduced even further. The obvious goal is to eventually eliminate the carbon footprint, Rasmussen said.
A third application that was submitted for a second, larger wind turbine which would be positioned by the current turbine near the WCROC. That turbine was commissioned in 2005 and provides about half of the campus’ electricity.
The new turbine would be used to meet the rest of the campus’ needs, as well as additional power that would be sold to Otter Tail Power. Negotiations between Otter Tail Power and UMM have already started, though no written agreement has been settled, Rasmussen said.
A third turbine grant was applied for through a joint application between the university and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. The proposal was to place a turbine on the Mille Lacs Band’s land to provide electricity for the band. The turbine would then be owned by both parties, and the university would sell their portion of the energy on the grid. Profits would be used to help promote green programs at UMM, although details of how profits would be used are still in the works, Rasmussen said.
The turbines will be built as soon as the university can find a manufacturer. Several turbine producers do not accept small orders; most require sizeable requests before any can be produced. That raises a problem for the university because of the small number needed.
As a solution, the university suggested to the Minnesota Legislature that the state purchase wind turbines in larger numbers and sell them to schools and other non-profit organizations. The proposal is pending, Rasmussen said.
The deadline for having the money allocated is Dec. 31, by which time the university either has to issue the bonds or return the money to the IRS. Though there is no consequence for the unused bonds, the hope is to move the project forward very soon, he said.
By Britney Appier
19 July 2008
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