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updated: 5/7/2010 3:15 PM

School wind farm bill passes Senate

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A bill that would allow school districts to use wind power to offset their energy costs cleared a major hurdle this week when the Illinois Senate passed the measure in a 59-0 vote.

The bill, originally filed in the state House by Streamwood Democrat Fred Crespo, would allow districts to own and operate wind farms, and issue bonds to pay for them.

The legislation, passed by the House in late March, was pushed by three suburban school districts hoping to build a 20-megawatt wind farm in downstate Stark County: Carpentersville-based Community Unit District 300, Keeneyville Elementary District 20 and Prospect Heights District 23.

Energy generated from the jointly operated wind farm would offset the district's energy costs back home.

The bill's backers said the legislation is particularly important now, when school districts across the state are facing deep deficits.

"They're all looking for a way to increase their revenue to offset the loss of state income," said Gary Ofisher, director of operations for District 20.

The districts pursued the legislative fix at the advice of attorneys who said existing law was silent on whether school districts could actually do what they are contemplating.

Now, the House has to vote on amendments added to the bill in the Senate before the legislation heads to the governor's desk.

But the bill's supporters did not think the amendments would pose any challenges and regarded the measure as more or less a done deal.

"My opinion was that it was going to pass because it didn't place any burden on anyone," said Dave Ulm, supervisor of facilities and energy management for District 300. "It was a relief. It was a relief that we're pretty much done in Springfield now."