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New Albany-Floyd County school district moving forward with plan for wind farm

The New Albany-Floyd County school district is moving forward with a plan to spend millions of dollars, along with other Indiana school districts, to build a wind farm in Northern Indiana despite the fact state regulators and one of the state’s most powerful legislators say it is against the law.

The New Albany-Floyd County school district issued a formal request for proposal on Oct. 12 to Performance Services, the Indianapolis company that plans to build the wind farm in Tippecanoe County, after it was the only firm that replied to an earlier request for qualifications that could have brought in companies to compete against it.

Performance Services has solicited participation from schools around the state to pay for and own 25 windmills on 2,500 acres it is calling Performance Park. The plan calls for the school districts to make money by selling electricity produced by the windmills.

Brad Snyder, the New Albany-Floyd County school district deputy superintendent in charge of its effort, said: “We’re moving forward until we stop, and that could happen tomorrow or that could happen next April.”

Each windmill would cost $4.5 million, though Performance Services has said federal tax credits it will receive and pass along to the school districts would drop the price to $3.5 million per turbine.

The district would fund the project with revenue bonds based on the income from selling power generated by the windmills, but backed up by property taxes. Selling the power is expected to net a $100,000 profit per turbine each year over an expected 25-year project life.

The New Albany-Floyd County school district expects to make a final decision as early as January on whether to build up to five turbines in Performance Park, about 180 miles away.

But Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Tuesday, “I think they’re making a mistake. … I don’t think they’re authorized to do it and … I think that they’re engaging in an investment that’s not appropriate for school corporations.”

That’s the same position taken by the Indiana State Board of Accounts when the project was brought to the agency’s attention in September. State law restricts local government bodies to conservative investments such as certificates of deposit and treasury bonds, audit supervisor Chuck Nemeth said at the time.

Kenley said he checked with the State Board of Accounts on Tuesday and got the same response from Deputy State Examiner Paul Joyce. But that has so far not slowed the project.

Timothy Thoman, president of Performance Services said, “We feel confident that it can be done legally.”

He has scheduled a Nov. 9 meeting to discuss the project with Kenley.

Snyder said that meeting could be crucial to the project’s future.

“If there’s a shroud of uncertainty it could lift that or it could kill it, squash it,” he said.

Thoman argues that Performance Park is not an investment.

“The difference is that they actually will own a turbine that will be located on ground that they own, and it will produce energy to offset part or all of their energy cost, and it will be tied in to their academic programs.”

It will take some doing to convince Kenley, who said Tuesday: “It’s just an investment idea … and that’s clearly outside of the intent of Indiana law to do that.”

He said since Performance Services believes the project is legal, “they figure they’re just going to get it done before anybody can do anything about it.”

Thoman said the company is moving ahead on several fronts.

“One of those, of course, are schools that are interested in going through the procurement process to make sure that we’re the best value option,” he said.

Warren County, Goshen and Penn-Harris-Madison school districts are ahead of New Albany-Floyd County in the process, having already received proposals from Performance, he said.

Tippecanoe, Eastern Green and Speedway are, like Floyd County, seeking proposals from the company. A dozen other districts are still evaluating whether to seek proposals, Thoman said in an e-mail.

In the New-Albany Floyd County district, Snyder said Parent Teacher Organizations will get to weigh in on the project at a meeting on Nov. 9. The time and place were yet to be determined. The proposal from Performance Services is due to the district on Nov. 12.

Snyder said he would ask the school board at its Nov. 15 meeting to schedule a public hearing in conjunction with the Dec. 13 board meeting. He said a final decision on whether to issue a design contract could come in January.