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Board to ask for extension for wind turbine grant

In a meeting of the Audit, Budget, Finance and Facilities Committee on Monday, University Trustee Ed McMillan said the Board of Trustees plans to pursue an extension of the $2 million grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation for the University’s wind turbine project.

“We are aware of many issues regarding the community and other technical issues that we haven’t fully appreciated in the past,” McMillan said. “At this point, the intention of the board is to pursue an extension request. But we want to assure you that we’re not trying to abandon our commitment to sustainability and research development.”

aurel Prussing, mayor of Urbana, and Suhail Barot, chair of the Student Sustainability Committee, both spoke during the meeting. Prussing voiced concerns that Urbana residents have presented about the placement and cost of the proposed turbine.

“We favor alternative energy sources, and certainly Urbana is committed to sustainability,” Prussing said. “But when you’re going to locate something that’s 400 feet high, and you’re going to have to break up roads to haul this heavy weight, you have to take the total cost into account.”

The turbine, which would generate an estimated 1.65 megawatts of electricity for the campus, would be constructed on the University’s South Farms.

Prussing, however, said the wind energy system regulations of the Urbana Zoning Ordinance give Urbana authority over areas that are a mile and a half outside of official city limits, which includes the proposed turbine site.

“According to our ordinance, a wind turbine should be at least 1,200 feet from the nearest residence,” she said. “And this one is only about 1,000 feet away.”

Barot said the wind turbine project would help aid the rising cost of providing energy for campus buildings.

“With this project, we are getting renewable energy for less than the price of coal, and someone is giving us $2 million to subsidize this,” he said.

“Given that we buy power at 5 cents per kilowatt hour, prices have increased by a factor of three in the past few years,” he added.

In addition to the grant, the turbine’s budgeted cost was also funded by $1 million from the offices of the University President and Interim Chancellor, $1 million from the University’s Utilities Division and $500,000 from the Student Sustainability Committee. Although the budgeted total was $4.5 million, the project’s estimated price has grown to $5.2 million ­— a number the University has committed to covering.

Barot said the timing of the project’s acceptance is important because the grant’s funding deadline is in three months.

“Students have voted with strong majorities to institute fees that have been responsible for funding the student part of this project,” Barot said. “As students, we feel that the University is morally responsible for completing this project.”