Developers Catch the Wind as an Engery Source

By Diane Kittower

Cost considerations, along with the desire to make an environmental statement, led the Spirit Lake, Iowa, Community School District to turn to wind energy. Its location between the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers was promising, with wind speeds often well above 7 mph.

Although the district didn't have the money to buy a turbine outright, a state grant and a loan covered about the $239,000 cost. The 250-kilowatt turbine was sited about 800 feet from the elementary school. Since beginning operation in mid-1993, the turbine has produced more than 1,570,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity, which would have cost the district $124,900. In addition to providing all of the electricity for the 53,000-square-foot school, enough to power more than 250 homes for a year, according to the school district, it also nets about $25,000 a year in combined paybacks from the utility and savings on electric bills. [The utility buys electricity from the school district, as negotiated in two contracts, paying a set amount -- 2 to 6 cents per kwh -- for electricity generated but not used.]

The results prompted the district to put up a second larger and more efficient turbine. With the installation of the 750-kilowatt turbine last October, the district became the first in the nation to provide all of its own electrical energy. In its first 49 days of operation, the new turbine generated 265,000 kwh, as much as the smaller one generated in all of 2001. A $250,000 no-interest loan, a low-interest bank loan, and school bonds covered its $780,000 cost.

--Diane Kittower is based in Rockville, Md.

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BIG BUILDER Magazine, March 2002