PIGEON – What is the main purpose of the Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker wind turbines? Is it to educate students and others, or is it to save the district money?
If operating the turbines is not financially benefiting the district because maintenance costs outpace any savings, is it worth keeping all three turbines spinning?
These are some of the tough questions being discussed by the Laker board of education. At Monday’s regular meeting, board members reviewed documents detailing how much the district pays for electricity at the elementary school with the three turbines running, how much it would pay with no turbines and how much it would pay with two turbines running.
Recently, the board’s Budget Committee met with DTE representatives to develop a long-term plan for the turbines. Over the past two years, the front turbine (closest to M-142) has lost a blade twice. The most recent blade loss happened in November.
Superintendent Bob Smith said the district needs to look at the issue of how much money it should spend on maintaining the turbines, especially if this cost exceeds the savings produced by the turbines’ power generation.
“This has been an intriguing thing for me and all of us,” Smith said. “One of the challenges I’ve found is how do we keep them all working and provide educational opportunities … without taking away from textbooks and other things.”
Smith said because Lakers was the first school district in the state to have its own wind turbine project, it blazed a trail that has had some bumps along the way. Since then, new laws relating to the wind power industry have been passed, including different rates for schools and net metering, both of which could have an effect on how much the district pays for electricity.
How much can the district save?
Without the turbines operating, the district would pay about $50,500 for electricity at the elementary school per year.
Last year, the district saved $9,563 by running the wind turbines. However, because the district replaced the set of blades on the front turbine last year after the 2008 blade loss, the district ended up spending more money on the repair than what the turbines saved – about $3,000 to $4,000 more.
Smith said the district does not have a specific account set aside for turbine maintenance, so any costs come right out of the general fund, which also pays for employee salaries and classroom supplies.
Under the new wind industry regulations, there are different electric rates for turbines that produce 20 kilowatts per hour (KWPH) or below, 150 KWPH or below and 150 KWPH and above. Turbines at the 150 KWPH rate and below qualify for net metering; those at 150 KWPH and above do not.
Smith said with three turbines operating at maximum output, they produce a total of 195 kilowatts per hour. Therefore, net metering could not be used if all three were in operation. However, if just two were operating, the district could use net metering.
According to the documents reviewed at the meeting, the district would save $9,088 if it operated two turbines and used net metering (as opposed to not operating any turbines).
In addition, the district could switch to a “secondary educational institution rate.” If the district didn’t run any of the turbines, but switched to the new rate, it could save $6,149.
If the district would switch to the educational rate and use net metering, it could save $14,523. This is almost $5,000 more than what currently is being saved with the operation of three turbines.
However, in order to save $14,523, it would require the decommissioning of one of the turbines – most likely, the front turbine that has lost blades twice.
Smith said while it would be simple to change over to the new rate at the secondary school building, the elementary school would need to get out of its current contract with DTE because the turbines are involved, Smith said. He noted the secondary complex could save about $4,000 under the educational rate.
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