Lebanon Reporter

April 3, 2010

A breezy suggestion for WeBo’s revenue problems

By Rod Rose/The Lebanon Reporter
Assistant Managing Editor

— Back in March 2009, the Western Boone school board decided it would not participate in industrial wind farms.

They may want to rethink that decision.

A wind turbine at Portsmouth High School in Rhode Island earned $281,219 for the community last year, the Providence Journal reported.

That amount is nearly a third of the $853,856 shortage Western Boone County Community Schools are facing this year.

It’s also more than 25 percent of what the Western Boone School Board opens to raise per year from a new property tax levy, which would add 19 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. WeBo Superintendent Dr. Judi Hendrix said the school board hopes to raise $1 million a year from the additional revenue.

Nearly two-thirds of persons voting in a recent Lebanon Reporter Web poll said they opposed the referendum.

Web polls are, obviously, unscientific. But when 63.63 percent of the responses are polite variations of “are you insane?,” other options should be examined.

One of those options is reversing its decision and inviting Enxco a wind farm developer, back for another chat.

Last March, Enxco’s Nick Watson told the school board that Western Boone Jr.-Sr. High School is smack in the middle of an area being considered for a 200-megawatt wind farm. The school district owns 97 acres on which turbines might be built, Watson said.

Wind turbines are a touchy subject here: Some land owners want them, others are vehemently opposed. Economics and aesthetics are the core issues for either side.

Those who disdain the turbines say they are unattractive and will lower their property values.

Those who want turbines are attracted to the $7,000 per turbine per year, with a 2.5 percent annual increase, Enxco would pay over a 30-year lease. That price could go higher, of course. But the annual lease payments aren’t where the real money could be.

It’s selling the power the turbines generate — and the Portsmouth High School unit was a puny 1.5-megawatts: New turbines crank out 2.5 megawatts, and 3MW units are being developed.

Most of Portsmouth’s profit was absorbed in utility bill credit, the Providence Journal said — but next year, because of changes in the law, the town will be getting monthly checks.

Wind turbines require about seventh-tenths of an acre, Watson told WeBo. There are other variables, of course — including whether the Boone County Commissioners will eventually approve an ordinance allowing industrial wind farms.

Watson said one or two turbines could be built on a 40-acre field. Assuming conditions are adequate for a quartet of turbines, and assuming WeBo strikes a deal similar to Portsmouth’s that’s potentially $1.12 million a year — excluding the $28,000 basic lease payment per turbine.

Good-bye, new tax levy.

Further: In Clinton and White counties, where wind farms are either being installed or have been activated, the turbines are being taxed. That’s more income for county government — and, potentially, less property tax homeowners will have to pay.

One argument against allowing industrial wind farms in western Boone County is that it will stifle residential development.

Converting Boone County’s farmland to subdivisions is not a good idea,

Those homes will have to use wells and septic systems, because they are so far away from municipal utilities the cost of running water and sewer lines would be boggling.

And there’s going to be the commuting cost for the people who live in those homes.

Gasoline prices are expected to reach $3 a gallon this summer; some analysts are anticipating $4 a gallon. That last figure is inevitable, and will one day be fondly recalled as a bargain.

If you consider wind as a crop, then wind turbines are merely another form of combine, on a very large scale.

Let’s start planting.

— Rod Rose is the assistant managing editor of The Lebanon Reporter. He may be reached at rod.rose@reporter.net.

; c/o The Lebanon Reporter, 117 E. Washington St., Lebanon IN 46052 or at (765) 482-4650 x 127.