December 19, 2012

Wind charged meeting at BV

By Barb Kromphardt | Bureau County Republican | December 19, 2012 |

MANLIUS – The debate over the financial impact of the Bureau Valley School District’s wind turbine continued at Monday’s board meeting.

Last month interim Superintendent Dennis Thompson distributed to board members a report showing a summary of energy costs and the impact of the wind turbine dating back to 2001. He said he created the report following a recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from a group regarding financial information about the turbine.

Thompson said a variety of factors have resulted in the wind turbine breaking even financially, but that the potential for profit was there after the bank note for the turbine is paid off in 2015.

On Monday, Greg Gonigam, who was part of the group who filed the FOIA request, spoke to the board about his concerns with the financial impact of the turbine.

Gonigam said he had discussed signing an agreement for a wind turbine on his property back in 2009 but eventually decided against it. He said two-thirds of his neighbors also opposed the wind turbine project, and he erected signs saying he wouldn’t sign an agreement.

In October 2010 the district held a community meeting expressing its support for the proposed Green River Wind Farm. Gonigam said he understood why the district supported the project, but was not happy the district passed out information at the teachers’ conferences supporting the developer, Mainstream Renewable Power.

When he asked during the meeting how the Bureau Valley turbine was doing financially, Gonigam said he was surprised that no one could answer the question.

“I thought, well how can Bureau Valley spend over $1 million on a turbine and not have any information on it?” Gonigam said.

So he started looking for answers himself. Preliminary numbers Gonigam received from district bookkeeper, Rita Hanna, weren’t promising.

“It looked like they were losing a lot of money,” Gonigam said.

Gonigam said he became more upset when board president Keith Bolin said in April 2012 that the turbine was making $40,000 to $80,000 per year.

At that point Gonigam and others filed the FOIA, and Gonigam worked up the numbers himself. On Monday, Gonigam said he still wasn’t 100 percent sure about insurance and maintenance costs, but he did have some totals.

“I’m showing a five-year average loss of $26,000,” Gonigam said.

Thompson said part of the difference between his numbers and Gonigam’s numbers was that he broke costs down by fiscal year rather than calendar year. Another difference is that Gonigam amortized the $122,000 the district paid for the project in 2004-05 over a 10-year period.

“It did report somewhat of a different picture, but it did present the same kind of information,” Thompson said.

Gonigam said if a report like Thompson’s had been available two years ago, he would not have had to pursue his search for the numbers.

“I don’t believe I’d be here tonight,” he said. “I just want to know the facts.”

Board member Jim Lilley had several questions for Gonigam.

“Are you part of a group opposing all wind mills?” he asked.

Gonigam said rather that he was passionate about farming.

“If they don’t affect me, I don’t have a problem with them,” he said.

Lilley then asked if Gonigam was opposed to the Green River project, and Gonigam said yes.

“I wondered about your agenda,” Lilley said.

Board member Rick Cernovich said that even with Gonigam’s figures, the district hasn’t lost anything and would have something of value after it is paid for.

Bolin said in the interests of full disclosure, he was an activist supporter of wind and was now employed by the wind industry.

Bolin said he first became involved with the wind industry because the poverty in the district was getting worse. There were 25 percent of the students qualifying for free or reduced lunch back in 1995. That percentage has increased to 50 percent for the current year.

“We have fewer kids, and people are poorer,” he said. “We need jobs.”

Bolin said the group Gonigam supports would “kill” $3 million in annual property tax revenue for the district.

“I respect you coming here very much,” Bolin said. “I believe you have the right to say no to the wind turbines, but the question is, does your neighbor have the right to say yes?”

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