Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Valley becomes first Indiana school powered by wind
Visiting opponents will have yet another reason to be intimidated this fall at the football field known as Death Valley – they’ll be playing in the shadow of a 321-foot tall, three-armed robot from outer space. Or maybe it’s a wind turbine. They still remind me of War of the Worlds ...
On Tuesday, May 31, local officials and State Senator Randy Head joined forty Valley students from the four main buildings in the district to turn the first shovels of dirt, in a groundbreaking ceremony for the first project in the state to provide wind-powered electricity and extra revenue for a public school system.
The tower will rise in a field south of the middle school and west of the north end zone of the football field this summer, and should be operational by October. Why Valley? Not every school building that is situated in a favorable location for wind power owns enough land to be able to clear the surrounding tree lines. And certainly, few school districts have $2.3 million lying around to finance the upfront costs of a project that will pay for itself in ten to twelve years and generate an extra couple hundred thousand dollars a year that can go into classroom education instead of overhead in the meantime.
Not that TVSC had $2.3 million lying around. But the district qualified for a federal Clean Energy Renewal Bond that advanced the money and pays all but about one percent of the interest while the bond is paid off. The Valley board and administration was willing to do the research, and the negotiating with the local utility, to make this project work. As Senator Head (R-Logansport) said in his comments – after a wince-inducing laundry list of criticisms that he’s heard about public schools being inefficient and not innovative – “I’m proud to represent TVHS -- and point to this example that those criticisms are not true.”
The mechanics of the project, which Superintendent Brett Boggs described at the ceremony, are fascinating – and have been the subject of numerous student research projects. The turbine itself – 321 feet tall, with three 100’ blades – is being built in Germany and will be assembled by Indiana contractors coordinated by Indy-based Performance Services, Inc. It will arrive through the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Great Lakes, and the Port of Chicago. The crane that assembles it will itself have to be assembled on site – after arriving on ten separate semi-trailers.
After the ceremony, school board member Mark Wise answered questions about the financial impact of the project. It is expected to produce about 70% of the electricity needs of the high school and middle school. Those schools are heated with natural gas, but depend on electricity for their lights, computers, and air conditioning – to the tune of about $250,000 a year. So the project will begin saving the school district around $160,000 a year in operating costs – which are state-funded and therefore allow the school to reallocate those dollars to the classroom.
At this point, it is not efficient to “store” wind-generated energy. It has to be used as it is generated. When the wind is not blowing, the school will continue to buy its electricity from Koscuisko County REMC … which in turn will buy excess electricity from the school after 3 PM and during summer vacations, creating another revenue stream for the school.
After a break this summer while construction takes place, next year the school will return to using the surrounding farmland for fund-raising projects – not just making hay while the sun shines, but making power while the wind blows.
Posted by Valley Alumni at 5:51 AM