Thursday, Apr 26, 2018
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Oregon schools propose 6 turbines that would supply electricity

Since it was installed two years ago, Clay High School's small-scale wind turbine has produced 25 percent more electricity than expected.

So the Oregon City Schools district is hoping six midsize turbines at three schools can both boost educational research and generate a large chunk of its electricity needs by harnessing an abundant natural resource on Maumee Bay's shore: wind.

"We have a resource here that can't be overlooked," said Dennis Slotnick, who teaches biology and environmental science at Clay. "There is so much richness to learn from this."

The $7.3 million two-phase plan involves partnering with SUREnergy of Sandusky, which is gathering a group of investors who will own the turbines for 15 years before ownership reverts to the school district, said Dean Sandwisch, the school district's director of business affairs.

The district initially will lease them from the investors' limited liability corporation - which will be eligible for federal stimulus money, tax incentives, state grants, and other government pro-grams not available to nonprofit schools - at a cost not to exceed its monthly electricity bill for the schools, Mr. Sandwisch said.

The first phase calls for two 750-kilowatt turbines at Clay and one 100-kilowatt turbine each at Eisenhower Middle School and Coy Elementary School, which are expected to be operating by the end of the school year or beginning of summer, Mr. Sandwisch said. A second 100-kilowatt unit will be added later at both Eisenhower and Coy, he said.

Clay's turbines will power 90 percent to 100 percent of the campus, including the administration building and bus garage. The other four turbines will meet 80 percent to 90 percent of those two schools' needs, Mr. Sandwisch said. The only cost to the school district, he said, was $24,000 from permanent improvement funds to SUREnergy for a feasibility study.

"We're excited about the project and the prospects," Mr. Sandwisch said.

Oregon City Council has scheduled a public hearing for 8 p.m. Nov. 22 on a special use exception permit for two turbines at Clay, which is in a low-density residential district. At about 300 feet each, they will be three times taller than the football stadium's lights, Mr. Sandwisch said.

Council probably will vote on the permit after the public hearing, said Mayor Mike Seferian.

Oregon itself is considering using wind turbines to help generate electricity for the city's water and wastewater treatment plants, which are large power users, Mayor Seferian said. The city even could create an electric utility to offer service to some industrial areas, he said.

District officials hope all permits for the turbines will be received from Oregon and Jerusalem Township by the end of December, Mr. Sandwisch said. Clay's existing turbine is a 25-kilowatt residential unit on a 50-foot tower, and students have been tracking output and other data.

The Black Swamp Bird Observatory near Oak Harbor has voiced concerns about the district's proposed project and the lack of regulation on noncommercial midsize turbines.

Kim Kaufman, the observatory's executive director, said the Clay and Eisenhower turbines would be on the western flank of the Lake Erie marsh region and would pose risks for birds landing to rest before completing their annual flight north.

"We're talking about birds that are mostly migrating at night, and that includes songbirds," Ms. Kaufman said.

Part of the project, however, involves studying how both birds and bats are affected by turbines, which is needed before more units pop up along Lake Erie, said Mr. Slotnick, the Clay teacher. Clay has worked with the observatory on the project's research design, he said. "We don't know how soon they descend coming in," said Mr. Slotnick, adding migratory birds actually could turn back from the lake. "We have to set up a study here first."

And, unlike a commercial operation more concerned with the bottom line, the school district could temporarily shut down turbines if they did kill migratory birds, Mr. Slotnick said.

Said Mr. Sandwisch: "We want to protect the wildlife just as much as they do."

Besides keeping track of any wildlife strikes, Clay students also would study efficiency of midsize turbines and correlate output with home use, Mr. Slotnick said.

"This kind of data will be so useful for everyone in our community," he said.

The cash-strapped school district should benefit financially from the turbine project too, Mr. Sandwisch said. Officials are mulling how to trim another $2 million in expenses by next school year after voters turned down an emergency levy this month.

The additional turbines hopefully would generate more electricity than expected, just as the existing unit has, and trim monthly utility costs during the 15-year lease period, he said.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

or 419-724-6087.

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