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District 300 OKs wind farm deal

Community Unit District 300 board members on Monday approved the creation of the School Wind Consortium Joint Action Renewable Energy Agency – albeit with sweaty palms and lots of anxiety.

School board members voted 5 -1 in favor of the partnership with two other school districts to create a wind farm in downstate Stark County. Board Member Karen Plaza the lone dissenter.

The consortium, which also includes Keeneyville Elementary District 20 and Prospect Heights District 23, will begin the second phase of the project, which includes navigating zoning issues, finalizing the business model, buying the turbines and, most crucially, establishing the economic feasibility of the project.

The agreement formalizes a funding and revenue split of 80-10-10 to District 300, District 20 and District 23, respectively. It would also require the unanimous approval of the three districts to issue bonds and dissolve the partnership.

Although some board members said the school district is not in the business of energy production, school officials said the district needs to find new ways to generate revenues and save money.

“We need to comtinue to look for any possible savings we can in all cost areas,” board member David Alessio said.

School Superintendent Ken Arndt urged board members to vote for the resolution.

“The day is going to come when we are going to have to keep them up,” said Arndt, referring to the $400 million in buildings the district has constructed. “Think outside the box. This is bringing in additional revenue that we don’t have to ask taxpayers for.”

But Plaza, who was elected to the board after the wind farm discussion began in 2007, said the school district has a number of problems it should address first.

“We are directing resources away from other things that we should be looking at,” Plaza said.

Officials estimate the feasibility study could cost the group up to $2 million, plus $150,000 in legal fees. If the project is deemed unfeasible, the districts would only be on the hook for its portion of the legal costs, school officials said.

Development costs are factored into financial models of the wind farm’s viability and would be paid through bonds sold by the partnership, not through the districts’ operating funds.

Cheryl Crates, the district chief financial officer, said to be considered financially viable, the model must show the wind farm making $4 million in 25 years. But Crates said the best case scenario has the wind farm turning an annual profit of $2 million to $3 million in 16 years.