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UI seeks proposals for wind turbine

URBANA – The University of Illinois is moving forward with its plans to install a wind turbine on campus.

Earlier this week the administration issued a request for proposals from companies interested in selling one to three turbines and possibly installing and connecting them to the UI’s electrical grid.

The timeline for the project, budgeted at $4.5 million, calls for the turbine to be up and running by the end of May 2011.

A minimum 1.5 megawatt turbine is proposed to be built on the northwest corner of Philo Road and Old Church Road.

The campus master plan calls for three turbines eventually to be installed in the square mile section of Race Street, Curtis Road, Philo Road and Old Church Road.

The UI’s 2010 Climate Action plan calls for increasing its use of renewable energy sources for campus electrical needs.

“We’re not looking for something to power one building. Our goal is to end up with 5 percent renewable energy in five years and 25 percent renewable energy by 2025,” said Morgan Johnston, sustainability and transportation coordinator with the UI’s facilities and services division.

The UI’s electricity usage runs about 75 to 80 megawatts of peak load per year; a 1.5 megawatt turbine would provide almost 2 percent of the campus’ electricity need, Johnston said.

The South Farms site planned for the turbines is surrounded by research fields run by the UI’s Department of Crop Sciences and the UI’s Energy Farm.

“We were seeking to be as far away from Willard (Airport) as possible and still on university land in a location that had good wind,” Johnston said.

The project will be paid for with a $2 million grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Foundation, a foundation that began in 1999 with a $225 million endowment from Commonwealth Edison. In addition, $1 million will come from the UI utilities budget, $500,000 will come from the UI chancellor’s office and $500,000 from the UI president’s office. All that money comes from what the university calls “institutional funds,” which can include revenue from grants and contracts, private and unrestricted gifts and more. Students, who approved paying a cleaner technologies fee, will contribute a total of $500,000.

“We are very grateful to the Illinois Clean Energy Foundation and we’re very excited about the project. They’ve been very patient with us,” Johnston said.

About 2003, when talk began on campus about using more renewable energy, the idea was to install three turbines and the cost was estimated around $5 million. But the proposals came back much higher than that, the project was revised to one turbine, the economic downturn ensued and the outlook on state funding to the university turned bleak. By late 2008 then-Chancellor Richard Herman cancelled the wind turbine project. When the grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Foundation was set to expire this summer, campus administrators in May announced the university would resurrect the project and commit to funding the rest of it.

The UI is seeking a minimum of a 1.5 megawatt turbine, but staff are expecting to hear from vendors who sell turbines with more power than that, such as a 1.65 megawatt or higher, Johnston said. And although the university is planning for one turbine, the request seeks cost estimates for two or three turbines.

“If there are cost savings involve in buying two, we want to at least know that,” Johnston said.

The request for proposals also includes two options for companies: either deliver the turbine or deliver and install it.

Bids are due Nov. 23. Approval from the UI trustees may come in December.