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Oregon school board approves wind turbine project

The Oregon Board of Education voted 7-0 Thursday to approve the construction of two nearly 300-foot turbines at Clay High School that would provide 90 to 100 percent of the campus’ power.

At the price of $4 million in bonds also approved Thursday from the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, the 750-kilowatt turbines will unite the campus’ six different energy meters into one single source, and are projected to save at least the same $4 million over a 20-year period.

The school district will lease power from the wind energy company SUREnergy at a fixed rate for 15 years. The school’s roughly $3,500 monthly energy bill will remain about the same with the turbine as it is now, but the district would save money as conventional energy prices climb at a predicted rate of three to five percent each year. SUREnergy has also committed a $200,000 safety net to cover any shortfalls if the turbine produces less than expected.

“I’m excited and relieved,” said Bryan Rathburn, SUREnergy’s assistant sales director. “This will be a model for other school districts. There is no effective [wind power] funding mechanism for schools…it’s been very hard to do this before.”

After 15 years, the district can either buy the turbines outright for their market value at that time, or keep buying monthly power from the turbine as it would from any other power plant.

Some local residents expressed concerns for wildlife. Mark Skolnicki, a volunteer lawyer for the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, told the school board at the meeting Thursday that the turbines could pose a risk for several wildlife protection laws, especially the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which can involve penalties of $200,000 for organizations. Mr. Skolnicki added the Western Lake Erie region has one of the largest concentrations of bald eagles outside of Alaska.

Charlie Schneider, a Clay High School teacher in environmental and agricultural technology, felt differently about the turbines’ impact.

“If you move away from coal, you’re helping the environment anyway,” Mr. Schneider said. “It’s a step in the right direction.”

Construction for the turbines is scheduled to begin near the end of the year or in early 2012.

In other matters Thursday, some teachers with the Oregon City Federation of Teachers attended the meeting to express solidarity and speak before the board. They had hoped the union and board of education would have reached a contract by this week. The current contract expires on July 31.