A look at Valley’s wind turbine

Tipton County Indiana (east of Kokomo, IN).

(The following was originally published in The Rochester Sentinel of Rochester, IN on Friday, November 24, 2017.)

BY LEAH SANDER
Staff Writer, The Sentinel

Tippecanoe Valley School Corp. Superintendent Brett Boggs says the corporation’s wind turbine has “been a good thing for us.”

Boggs shared his thoughts regarding the corporation’s 325-foot turbine. It has been producing electricity at the middle and high schools for six years.

The turbine provides an average of 1.5 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year to power the two schools. The amount depends on the wind speed throughout the year. Boggs says that energy covers about 50-60 percent of the total electricity needed at both schools.

Boggs said the corporation saves about $150,000 dollars per year on electricity costs due to the turbine. The corporation also receives $5,000 in energy credits per year and makes a small amount of money if the turbine makes more energy than the school needs.

Fewer state funds

Like the solar project that the Tippecanoe Valley School Board approved last week to install at Mentone Elementary School, Boggs said the corporation opted to get a turbine due to fewer state funds going to rural schools.

“When we put (the turbine) in back in 2011, that’s when the state was really cutting schools’ funds and that was one of the reasons that we went ahead and did that was to help the general fund, and it has helped the general fund,” Boggs said.

He said the corporation pays for its turbine out of its debt service fund just as other schools do for new school buildings.

“So we’re paying for the wind turbine out of debt service. That $150,000 that now we don’t have to spend on electricity is money we can spend on teachers, programs, those kinds of things,” he said.

Boggs did say the turbine has not produced the money that the company initially stated due to it not meeting original energy production predictions.

Maintenance

The corporation also pays about $20,000 per year to Power Grid Partners of Ohio, its wind energy company, to maintain the turbine.

The company had to fix motors on it when lightning struck it during its first year of operation. There were no injuries or property damaged as a result of the strike.

“We had to replace a couple of motors that turned the blades. They worked on it and did a couple of additional things to protect it from lightning and we’ve not had any issues with that since,” he said.

In regards to other commonly cited issues with turbines, Boggs said the turbine has never had a blade breakdown and there is a bit of shadow flicker if the sun is really bright.

“The only thing that we see is if it’s the right time of the day and the sun’s at the right angle, we’ll get a little bit of a flicker from the blades. That will … not necessarily impact our buildings but it might impact the bus garage or the baseball field or something like that out there,” he said.

He said the turbine will make “a whoosh sound” if a lot of rain or snow gets on it, but otherwise does not make a lot of noise.

Little opposition

Boggs said the corporation has not really had complaints from people regarding the turbine.

“We didn’t have any opposition during the planning process up to constructing it, and then we’ve not had any issues with it since then,” he said.

He said the corporation did receive some complaints as the project progressed similar to what was heard when Fulton County leaders recently were deciding on a proposed 133-wind turbine farm in the county.

“We heard all the same things when we were looking into it. We did our homework and we did a lot of research. And a lot of the things (that he had read about the Fulton County project), the opposition is the same thing that you hear every time somebody is talking about a wind farm. And a lot of it is stuff that is … on the internet and I don’t know where it comes from, but as far as them causing health issues, and that kind of thing, I’m not sure where that comes from. I just think there is a lot of false information that gets out and I think it’s intended to scare people to evoke emotion. And I think sometimes the opposition is just that people don’t like change,” he said.

Boggs has had several people approach the corporation to ask questions about the turbine due to the recent debate in Fulton County.

“We had somebody stop by and ask me the other day they said they had heard that we can’t host a sectional football game because of the wind turbine. I said “That’s absolute nonsense. Whoever told you that, that’s not correct,” he said.

When asked about a problem such as ice coming off a turbine, Boggs said he advocates caution in situating turbines.“You know that’s one of the reasons why you put them out where there isn’t anybody around, because that could happen. I don’t know that I’m ever aware of anything like that that’s happened but we don’t have anybody out there either but that’s a reason why you wouldn’t want it close to a home or where people are because that does happen at times where there can be ice on it. When a blade is moving as quickly as those do, it could throw some ice,” he said.

Setback rules

The corporation had to follow the same rules regarding setbacks as any other wind project in Kosciusko County. The setback is one times the height of the turbine, and county rules also state the turbine must be 1,000 feet from any occupied building, such as a house, church or school, excluding buildings on the site of the project.

Boggs said they asked neighbors on the west side of the turbine if they could place it closer to their property line than normal setbacks allow to keep the turbine away from places like the bus garage and football field at the school. The neighbors granted their request.

Neighboring property owners received letters notifying them of Valley’s wind project. They met with the school corporation at the Kosciusko County Courthouse to receive more information. Boggs also said testing to protect birds and bats in the area was done and the corporation had to receive special approval for the project due to the Mentone Airport being nearby.

An advocate

Boggs mentioned that turbines could help rural school districts due to a lack of funding from the state.

“The thing that I look at I guess that I think is the most important is how (a wind project) could help North Miami and Caston schools. You know if their AV (assessed value of land in their school districts) increases that’s going to help them … gain additional tax dollars that they can use to support their schools. You know small rural school districts right now are dying a slow death and I think any additional funding that they can get is going to be beneficial,” he said.

Boggs also advocated for turbines due to them being a renewable energy source.

“One of the things that bothers me is that we depend so much on foreign oil as a country and if those countries want to, they could pretty well shut us down by limiting our access to that stuff. I think we’ve got to get away from expecting everybody else to meet our energy needs when we’ve got the capability of doing it right here. … I think it is important that we show our kids that there are other ways that we can produce the energy that we need, we can do it ourselves,” he said.

People may find more information on Valley’s turbine, including monthly energy production reports, by going to the school corporation website tippecanoevalleyschools.com, scrolling down to “Additional Quicklinks” and clicking on “Wind Turbine Information.”

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