HARDIN COUNTY – You can’t do something for 46 years and not be passionate about it. When Dennis Rector speaks of what’s important for the growth of a student though, the pace of his speech quickens as he supplies facts, formulas and what he knows to be true. What started as a four month stint has turned into four years for the man at the helm of the Upper Scioto Valley (USV) school district. Superintendent Rector had quite the challenge when he first began.
“We had less than seven days cash remaining in our budgets,” he said. The school had been left with a huge financial burden after the well intentioned wind farm program fell to pieces. Academic performance and school rankings were abysmal and as scores of students left the district to attend other schools, much needed funding went with them. The bills got paid off though.
Rector said, “There were a lot of issues we had to get through. To get ourselves solid.”
Rector managed to renegotiate and get debts forgiven. In a very short period of time he cleared out an $800,000 liability owed to the state from the former wind academy; a $500,000 debt on the field house; a $264,000 debt with a bank in Cincinnati for a lease agreement on the water tower. He then sold the Alger facility, which was costing them money.
“We also had an early retirement incentive owed to the state retirement system cleared,” Rector stated, “and we didn’t have to vote any new money.”
Rector spoke of the wind farm and academy which he believes led to large fallout in the community.
“Everybody did things with the best of intentions but it really tore at the heart of this community.”
Had the wind farm panned out with 50 additional wind turbines paying into the district, the district would be in a much better financial position. However, presently, plans for additional turbines have not materialized as anticipated.
As for the two windmills on the school property, the negotiated price for their generated power costs more than what they can get directly from the local utility company. So far they have saved over one hundred thousand dollars by switching to a commercial provider.
“And money saved, is money made,” he stated as he looks toward a better future. “What is done is done. They’re not going anywhere. Will they eventually see a savings? That would be nice. By the same token we’ve been able to, through negotiation, bring costs down.”
Ada School districts acquired a windmill on their property during the same period taking advantage of grant funding during the alternative energy incentive program. Ada Superintendent Suzanne Darmer believes the cost to savings ratio comes out as a wash and everything is working fine.
“That was a onetime opportunity many years ago,” Darmer said. “When that came into place we had the opportunity to secure a grant through the federal government through the NexGen Company.”
Darmer further added, “It has not been a problem for us. We have regular maintenance, but nothing to speak of about them being down.”
The wind turbine is not an issue at the school, however, they do not have any plans to put in any more.
While other school districts have had similar experiences, a few schools in Northwestern Ohio have had great success with the alternative energy program.
“I’d like to see enough windmills in Hardin County so that it’s giving back to the school districts.” said Superintendent Jeff Snyder at Lincolnview.
The Lincolnview school district has reaped the benefit of a $400,000 annual payment from the 42 windmills located there. Snyder said the program was developed from federal legislation and tax incentives for alternative energy and brokered by the Van Wert county commissioners. The county commissioners worked out the deal with the wind energy company, Iberdrola Renewable, a Spanish public multinational electric utility company. The company pays the school and the county directly.
“We get value off the turbine itself, not how much they generate,” Snyder said. “We don’t get any energy to run our school districts off our turbine. The turbine is putting power onto the grid for us to consume. What they try to do is to get people to buy into their energy in advance.”
Snyder says the Ohio State University (OSU) has already seen a tremendous savings with the locked in rate from their windfarm. He stated, “Twenty percent of all the power OSU uses is coming from this wind farm. They locked in their rate for the next twenty years.”
Snyder says the revenues generated from the windfarm greatly benefits the school and saves the taxpayers. Lincolnview received a mere $81,000 in funding from the state this year, which, by the way, won’t even pay for a school bus.
“The big issue now is that everything was great and we were getting ready to add another new windmill farm in our district. But there are some state legislators in Ohio who do not like wind energy,” said Snyder
The state has in the past two years created new rules and regulations for placement of windmills. Snyder said the new restrictions have created setbacks and deterred installation of an additional 40 more windmills.
“We’re one of the first school districts to provide laptop devices to every student from kindergarten through 12,” he added, “We’ve started pre-engineering and bio-medical programs in high school, knowing we have this money for the next twenty years. It’s been a world of difference for our school district and we’re going to keep doing great things here because we have the opportunity to do that.”
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