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Three local school districts might lease wind power

A project that would use wind energy as a source of revenue for three local school districts is gaining traction as parties look to get the project up and running before federal grants expire at the end of next year.

The School Wind Consortium Joint Action Renewable Energy Agency, also known as the SWCA, reviewed project plans from Chicago-based Invenergy during a work session Monday.

The consortium, which consists of Community Unit District 300, Keeneyville Elementary District 20 and Prospect Heights Elementary District 23, is considering an agreement to lease wind turbines from Invenergy for 20 years. The company operates a wind farm in Bishop Hill, a small town about 50 miles southeast of Rock Island in Henry County. Invenergy would build four or five turbines at its existing facility for the SWCA.

The lease agreement replaces a proposal to build and operate a wind farm in Stark County.

To take advantage of the federal tax credits for renewable energy that expire at the end of 2012, the consortium and Invenergy are looking to finalize an agreement before the end of the year.

“We need to decide what we are building fairly soon because we do want to make sure that everything is built by the end of next year and operating,” said Daniel Thompson, vice president of energy marketing for Invenergy.

Thompson said an order for turbines could be filled in early December, with delivery anticipated for mid-2012.

Mike Land, director of Baker Tilly, a financial consulting firm in Madison, Wis., said the project makes sense as energy costs are expected to rise.

“This enables school districts to reduce exposure to long-term energy prices over a 20-year period,” Land said. “It also gives you access to a revenue source.”

The consortium would pay a fixed rate based on the current costs of electricity and then sell energy produced by the turbines for a profit. No actual electricity produced at the wind farm will reach any of the schools, but the alternative energy source is expected to save the districts about $7 million over 20 years, district leaders said.

Tentative approval of a letter of intent is expected at a consortium meeting Tuesday morning, Oct. 11, before the District 300 board takes action at its meeting later Tuesday night. The two remaining districts said they expect to take similar action within the next month.