Central Alberta schools may soon be harnessing the power of the wind.
About 40 school divisions in the province – including Red Deer Public School District and Chinook’s Edge School Division – have expressed interest in joining the estimated $150-$200 million Alberta Schools Wind Power Project.
The school boards are part of a 38-school board member consortium that was formed to negotiate utility contracts in 2003. The consortium is managed by school district business officials and directors of facilities. The current utility contract is set to expire on Dec. 31, 2013. A few school divisions outside of the consortium have also expressed interest.
In partnership with Calgary-based BluEarth Renewable Inc., the project involves the building of a wind farm with about 40 or 50 turbines, near Provost, about 270 kms east of Red Deer.
If approved the wind farm would be fully operational by Jan.1, 2014.
At its Wednesday board meeting, the Red Deer Public board of trustees passed a motion to submit a non-binding letter of intent to the consortium.
“There are a number of benefits,” said Cody McClintock, associate superintendent, business services. “No. 1 is it gives us a stable rate for the next 25 years. At least we know what we will be paying. It takes a lot of risk away. When your funding is fixed you don’t want to have high rates one year and low rates the next, so stability is good.”
McClintock said the district will also have the opportunity to invest in the project if it makes financial sense for the division. He said the boards participating in the project can take up to 25 per cent ownership in the project.
“Electricity prices are likely to rise over the foreseeable future with growth,” he said. “A lot of electricity is being generated by using fossil fuels. It is quite likely there will be taxes or costs for mitigating greenhouse gases. This takes us right away from that.”
There may also be some educational tie-ins with the students.
Duane Reid-Carlson, a engineer on the project, has toured the province speaking to school board trustees about the project. He was at Chinook’s Edge School Division on Wednesday. The board of trustees will study the initiative further before making a decision on the project.
“Currently school boards have a fairly low contract for utility prices because it was signed several years ago when market conditions were such power prices were projected to be low,” he said. “That’s radically different to what has happened. Power prices are quite high recently because of significant outages of power plants. The current contract is quite low but that was based on market conditions three or four years ago. If you were to sign that contract today that would be well above the price we are contemplating through this project.”
In the coming weeks, the number of boards participating in the project are expected to be solidified. This way they can size the project and finalize its application to the Alberta Utilities Commission by the end of January.
If the project is approved, construction would start in the fall of 2013 with the wind farm fully operational by January 2014. The lifespan of the project is 25 years.
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