Lebanon Reporter

State News

June 14, 2012

Northwestern schools in Howard County tapping into wind energy

Turbine projected to produce 2.4 million kilowatts per year

KOKOMO, Ind. — Scott McKay and his family looked up to the sky as a crane carefully hoisted the third piece of Northwestern School Corp.’s 322-foot wind turbine into place.

“It’s not every day you get to see one of these giant things go up,” McKay said.

He, his wife and three daughters sat at the work site south of Northwestern High School watching the structure take shape.

They were not alone in their curiosity. About 30 people joined them. Some sat on bleachers, in lawn chairs or in truck beds. Others sprawled out in the grass.

“It’s been a beehive of activity here,” said Harold Seamon, assistant superintendent for the district.

On June 2 and 3, truck drivers delivered the pieces of the turbine. Even then, they were greeted by spectators who pulled to the side of the road to ask them questions, Seamon said.

“They said they felt like celebrities,” he said, with a laugh.

It took two days to piece the giant crane together. On June 6, contractors started erecting the turbine’s base.

McKay and his family had been watching it go up for hours.

McKay described the experience. He said the crane lifted the pieces slowly and methodically until they were positioned in just the right place.

Then workers stationed inside the base bolted the pieces together.

“You can hear those guys banging it into place,” McKay said. “You can hear the air ratchets going.”

The spectators were waiting for the grand finale, though.

At about 3 p.m., a crane carried the blade to the top of the turbine where workers fastened it in place, which completed the structure.

McKay marveled at the turbine. He said he thought it looked “pretty cool.”

But it’s more than that. McKay said he thought the turbine would be a good investment for the district.

Northwestern has the right idea, he said.

“I think this is the way of the future,” he said. “This is prime real estate for wind energy.”

Seamon said the turbine would likely go live in about a week. First, the district has to conduct tests to make sure it is in working order.

The district is hoping the turbine will produce 2.4 million kilowatts of energy each year, Seamon said.

If it does, Northwestern could see $7 million in energy savings over the turbine’s 25-year lifespan, Seamon said.

That factors in insurance costs, maintenance costs and an escalation in energy costs, Seamon said.

It doesn’t consider the cost of the project, though. When that’s factored in, the actual savings for the district is about $4.5 million.

The school corporation will fork out about $2.5 million for the turbine. It could have cost almost twice as much, though. Seamon said the federal government is paying for most of the interest.

In 2009, Northwestern got $2.3 million in Clean Renewable Energy Bonds to offset the cost of the project.

Northwestern is the first school district in the county to tap into wind energy.

At one time, Eastern Howard School Corp. was considering a similar wind turbine. Officials scrapped the project in March after opponents gathered 100 certified signatures against it.

In December, Southeastern School Corp. in Cass County announced it was considering installing a wind turbine, too. The superintendent said the district was in “very preliminary” talks with an Indianapolis company.

He said by December 2012, Southeastern would decide whether to substantially invest in the project.

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