HOOPESTON – Education officials around Vermilion County are looking to the sky and hoping the towering wind turbines expected to be built in several locations will bring a profitable wind of change to their school district.
Schools around Illinois are faced with growing debt as they await state funding that has fallen further behind. But in Vermilion County, school officials have discovered the world of alternate energy as a potential future provider of alternate funding.
In February, International Power filed an application with the county for the Hoopeston Wind Project. The project calls for the construction of 43 wind turbines along a stretch reaching from around 3 miles east of Illinois Route 49 to the Hubbard Trail Country Club north of Rossville.
The county is still going through the permit and approval process for the wind turbine project, so school districts are not in a hurry to start adding the potential funds to their budgets yet. But the anticipation is definitely there for some.
Jamie Dorsey, superintendent at Potomac school district, has received word that her district could see as many as four or five wind turbines erected in the northern part of the county.
She said the state average that a wind turbine earns a school district in the end is around $9,000 per turbine, or the potential for $36,000 or more for the Potomac district.
“That would be a big boost, especially for a small district like ours,” Dorsey said.
A majority of the turbines are expected to be built in the Hoopeston Area School District, which stretches across the northern part of the county, enveloping Hoopeston as well as the smaller towns of Cheneyville to the east and Rankin to the west.
Superintendent Hank Hornbeck said officials there have not had a lot of talk about the wind turbines at this point, saying he is waiting to see what develops.
“We’re cautiously optimistic at this point,” he added, noting that he can’t see where the turbines could hurt a community or school district.
Rossville-Alvin Interim Superintendent Randy Hird said there’s still a lot of work to be done, but estimates the wind turbines could mean as much as $100,000 a year for the district, which is second behind Hoopeston Area in the number of turbines that could be located there.
“That’s the technical term for a windfall,” Hird said. “We’re very hopeful.”
Local educators need only look to the west where the Ridgeview school district in McLean County and Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley school district in Ford County have seen the benefits of the Twin Groves Wind Farm.
The wind farm, a 240-turbine project that was completed in 2008, features 161 turbines in the Ridgeview district. Ridgeview Superintendent Larry Dodds said he has been “pleasantly surprised” by the monetary results of having 161 of the turbines in his district.
According to figures he presented at a wind farms conference in February, the district of almost 600 students is seeing a steadily rising equalized assessed valuation as a result of the fair market value of the turbines. The equalized assessed valuation includes all computed property values upon which a district’s local tax rate is calculated.
According to Dodds, Illinois state law dictates that turbines are valued at a rate of $360,000 per megawatt. In the case of Ridgeview, the turbines operate at 1.65 megawatts each.
The Hoopeston wind farm turbines are expected to operate at 2.3 megawatts.
With the turbines now part of the equation, the Ridgeview district has seen its equalized assessed valuation jump from $61,978,117 in tax year 2006 – prior to the wind farm – to $102,721,092 in the 2009 fiscal year. The result has been wind farm revenue totals for the 2012 fiscal year that reach $1.7 million. That total is well over the $380,816 generated in the 2007 tax year – the first year that Dodds said the wind farm appeared on the tax rolls.
“It has been a Godsend,” Dodds said.
The biggest change, according to Dodds, comes in the form of general state aid that is paid out annually to the school districts. As the equalized assessed valuation goes up, the general state aid goes down.
It’s not a one-for-one loss,” he said. “Last year, we took in $1.85 million (in net wind turbine revenue) and lost $700,000 though general state aid.”
In recent years, Horizon, Invenergy Wind Development and Eco-Energy have each initiated preliminary plans for specific wind turbine projects in the western and southern parts of the county.
That is good news, said William Mulvaney, superintendent of Armstrong-Ellis Consolidated District 61 and Armstrong Township High School. The most recent reports he received indicated Invenergy could locate as many as 100 wind turbines in his district.
Everything is still up in the air at this point, as Invenergy has not even filed for a permit to build the turbines in Vermilion County. But Mulvaney said the revenue, if everything happens, could be in the $500,000 to $550,000 range.
That compares, he said, to the $125,000 to $150,000 in general state aid the school district receives.
“That’s a huge jump for us,” he said.
According to Dodds, the wind turbines slowly depreciate at a rate of 4 percent over 25 years. Mulvaney said that’s not a concern because as the depreciation begins, the general state aid will begin to increase.
“Let’s face it, right now where we all are, we’re all hurting for money,” Mulvaney said. “The state is not paying up what they owe, so anything that is a positive revenue stream is good.”
Dodds stressed schools can’t start budgeting for the money now.
“The key is they have to be built,” he said of the turbines. “Until then, nothing happens. Don’t spend it until you get it.”
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