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updated: 9/26/2011 6:12 AM

Local school districts considering new wind turbine option

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Having failed to attract investors to a proposed wind farm project in downstate Stark County, Carpentersville-based Community Unit District 300, Prospect Heights Elementary District 23 and Keeneyville Elementary District 20 are looking at another option that will enable them to harness the power of wind energy.

Initially, the three districts' School Wind Consortium Joint Action Renewable Energy Agency sought to purchase wind turbines in Stark County, located northwest of Peoria.

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But district leaders said investors were not interested in backing the revenue bonds needed to fund the project.

Instead, the consortium will consider leasing wind turbines from Chicago-based Invenergy, which operates a wind farm in Bishop Hill, a small town about 50 miles southeast of Rock Island.

District 300 Chief Financial Officer Cheryl Crates said the proposal from Invenergy was the most attractive option for the consortium.

"We have three goals, and they are to save money, be green and to involve our students in understanding social responsibilities," Crates said. "Those are our three goals and this proposal accomplishes them."

Though the agreement has not been finalized, Dave Ulm, supervisor for facilities and energy management in District 300, said the district would lease five or six wind turbines that Invenergy agreed to build at its existing plant.

The consortium would pay a fixed rate based on the current costs of electricity and then sell energy produced by the turbines for a profit.

The plan is expected to save the District $7 million over 20 years, Ulm said.

"The difference between what we pay for the energy and the price that we sell it for will be revenue for the district," he said.

No electricity from the Bishop Hill turbines will actually reach the district schools. Instead, the district will use revenues from the farm to offset the costs of its energy bills.

Although the consortium will not own the wind turbines, previously estimated to cost $50 million, Ulm said the lease agreement is the most cost-effective approach.

The district expects to purchase 28,000 megawatt hours per year, or about $1.64 million annually. District 300 currently spends about $3 million a year on electricity.

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