CARPENTERSVILLE – With a study under way to determine whether District 300 would benefit by installing a wind turbine at the new Hampshire High School, the district now is beginning to look into joining two other school districts to build a wind farm in central Illinois that would generate enough electricity to power the entire district.
But if a state law doesn’t change, the off-site wind farm idea is moot, Chief Financial Officer Cheryl Crates said.
Under current law, school districts, community colleges, and municipalities that produce energy using a wind turbine are only credited for 20 percent of the power they produce beyond what they need, and that extra energy can only go to another facility that is physically connected to the turbine by wires, explained District 300 Energy Coordinator David Ulm.
But House Bill 6660, introduced in the state Legislature this month, would require utility companies to allow net metering, or 100 percent compensation for extra energy produced. The bill also would allow the electricity to be credited to an off-site account.
“It sells [the electricity] back to the grid dollar-for-dollar, kilowatt-for-kilowatt,” Crates said. “And it just runs over [the utility company’s] wires and we basically take a credit for that excess at School A and spend it on School B’s electric bill.”
Gary Ofisher, director of operations at Keeneyville Elementary District 20 in Hanover Park and a strong advocate of the bill, said he was expecting heavy opposition from utility companies, including ComEd.
“We will have a difficult time without the support of all the school districts in the state,” Ofisher told District 300 school board members at their meeting Monday.
Ulm said the district would need to build about six wind turbines at a 250-acre site in McLean County to produce enough energy to power the district.
Keeneyville Elementary District 20 in DuPage County and Tri-Valley Community School District 3 in McLean County also would each install a turbine at the wind farm, Ofisher said.
But even if school board members decide to install only the $6 million wind turbine at Hampshire High School, the law would allow the district to use any extra energy produced to power other schools in the district, which Crates said was a possibility.
To pay for the turbine, the district could apply for a no-interest loan and pay it back using about $250,000 saved each year on electricity expenses at the high school, Crates estimated. At that rate, the turbine would pay for itself in 20 to 25 years at no additional cost to taxpayers, she said.
School board members are expected to vote at their Aug. 11 board meeting on whether to support House Bill 6660.
“This is good for all school districts and municipalities,” School Board member Mary Warren said. “No one believes our energy needs are going to decrease.”
By Jenn Wiant
29 July 2008
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