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D300 approves new energy contract, looks to eliminate wind consortium

ALGONQUIN – Community Unit School District 300’s plans to use renewable energy to offset its energy expenses through a School Wind Consortium Agency are gone with the wind.

However, District 300 officials announced at Monday’s regular school board meeting that their endeavor still was a success. The Carpentersville-area district “never lost sight of our stated goals” and still will reduce its energy costs, according to a memo from CFO Cheryl Crates and Supervisor of Facilities and Energy Management Dave Ulm.

“At the end of the day, we found a better way to save money,” Crates said.

District 300 had formed the School Wind Consortium with Keeneyville Elementary School District 20 and Prospect Heights School District 23 in August 2010.

The consortium’s goal was to use renewable energy, secure long-term energy savings for its member school districts and enhance educational opportunities for their students.

But, the memo said, “We have determined that the feasibility for funding any such venture without upfront investment does not exist.”

The School Wind Consortium’s original plan, to fund and operate the state’s first school district-owned wind farm, fell apart when it could not interest investors in buying general obligation bonds, District 300 announced in November.

It then planned to negotiate an agreement with Invenergy LLC to purchase energy from existing wind farms at a fixed price, then sell it to offset its electrical expenses for the next 20 years.

But, Ulm said, “The negotiations broke down without us being able to come to terms that were mutually beneficial to both parties.”

One of the utilities providers that had responded to the consortium’s request for proposal for an “alternative energy retail supplier” was Constellation New Energy, it said. Constellation is District 300’s current electricity and natural gas provider.

The utilities provider returned to District 300 with an offer for an electrical contract that “would meet most of our original intent,” according to the memo.

The District 300 board approved an eight-year contract with Constellation at its last meeting, Jan. 23.

Before it was part of the School Wind Consortium, the district was unable to secure more than a four-year contract, Ulm said.

The contract with the consortium includes a fixed price for administrative fees – a “large component” of energy costs, he said.

That will save the consortium about $300,000 each year, Crates said. That means District 300 will make up the $80,000 to $90,000 it had invested in the setup of the consortium within a year, she said.

Beyond that, she said, all three districts will have separate contracts and will be billed separately by Constellation.

District 300 has chosen to lock in 25 percent of its electrical usage for those eight years at a fixed rate of 44 cents per kilowatt hour, about 11 cents lower than its most recent contract, Ulm said.

Board member Joe Stevens called that outcome “admirable” but he said he thought the district probably could have gotten similar results without the consortium. The “sole function” of that consortium had been to secure wind energy, he pointed out.

“I understand, based in the status of things, I may be a day late and a dollar short, but I do not believe the School Wind Consortium should continue to exist,” Stevens said. “I believe it is outside the purview of the board of education.”

And Board President Anne Miller asked Crates to put together another memo for the board about what it would take to eliminate the consortium, how that would impact the new energy contract and “if what was done could be done in another way.”