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Go ahead given for Wyatt wind project; Turbine not expected to lower rates

SOUTH BEND – After more than a year of study, the board of the St. Joseph County Regional Water and Sewer District has decided to go ahead with a wind project at the district’s wastewater treatment plant in Wyatt.

The project represents the first of its kind in the area in terms of scale, county Engineer Jessica Clark, a member and past president of the board, said, and the only municipal project in the area ever to proceed to construction.

“There are a few smaller turbines in the area, but as far as a county-administered type installation, this is the first of its type here in our community, and to this type of scale,” Clark said.

The board awarded the project to Windemuller Electric Inc. of Wayland, Mich., one of two bidders, during a special meeting last month. The company bid $429,620.

The district plans to finance the project with money leftover from a USDA Rural Development Grant Program grant used to construct the Wyatt sewer system, plus a $150,000 bank loan, Clark said.

Projects financed in whole or in part by the USDA are subject to review by the agency, she said.

“They’ll review the (bid) award and the documents to verify we followed their rules,” she said of the USDA. “And then they’ll authorize us to give the contractor (Windemuller) notice to proceed.”

Once that happens, Windemuller then has five months to complete the project, Clark said, which entails fabricating and erecting a 140-foot, 50-kilowatt wind turbine next to the Wyatt treatment plant.

A study conducted in 2010 indicated a turbine of that capacity could provide as much as 40 percent of the power needed to operate the plant, with a return on investment of five years.

The turbine is not expected to lower sewer rates in Wyatt – current rates already assume the structure. Rather, it is expected to stabilize rates by acting as a hedge against anticipated future increases in energy costs.

Clark said she expects the turbine to be operational by the end of the year.