Wind turbine in Sherrard to begin soon

Cathy Decker/Staff reporter
A 600 killowatt wind turbine is up and should be running within the next two weeks, powering more than half of the energy needed at the Sherrard Junior - Senior High School.

Ameresco, an independent energy solutions company, is just about done with a first-in-the-nation Clean Renewable Energy Bond financed wind turbine generator at Sherrard Junior-Senior High School. The rural school has been looking into solving its average $180,000-a-year electricity expense using wind generators for the past several years.

"This is this company's first turbine in Illinois," said Sherrard Board member Tim Arbet. The company is out of India and has erected a Vestas RRB India Limited wind turbine, slated to produce enough energy for 65 percent of the Sherrard Junior - Senior High Building.

On Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2008 members of the Sherrard Board of Education heard from two Ameresco staffers, Scott Engstrom and Steve Taggart, who have been working with the district over the past several years on the wind turbine project.

Superintendent Rebecca Rodonker introduced Taggart saying, "We're at the conclusion of this."

Taggart  said the process started with a wind study, that proved Sherrard would be able to produce energy for its school with wind power. "The next big hurdle was applying for a $420,000 Illinois Clean Energy Foundation grant," he said. Ameresco assisted the district with its feasibility study, grant applications, filing for low-interest Clean Renewable Energy Bond (CREB) financing and through the design, procurement and construction stages.

Taggart  said the district was the first in the nation to receive CREB financing, at 1.75 percent interest through the Bank of America.

The original agreement (with Ameresco) proposed a different unit and ran into some snags, Taggart  said. The originally planned wind turbine was one designed in Germany and needed an 18-month to two-year lead time. The purchase was also based on the Euro currency, which has a 1.3 exchange rate. "They would not work with the district on the Euro exchange," he said. That turbine would have cost the district $2,508,869.

Ameresco then contracted with another turbine manufacturer from India, which produced a Vestas RRB India Limited turbine at a cost of $2,027,181 to the district.

Taggart pointed out that the Vestas contract had a much faster turn-around time and would be paid for with US currency. He said that the efficiency of the second wind turbine was slightly less than the original.

He said that Sherrard's Vestas is one of 2,000 erected in the United States. "Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday next week will be a time of testing. They should be up and running by Friday," he added.

The hub height is 50 meters (just over 164 feet) tall. Ameresco will work with the district during at least the first full year of operation. The lifespan of the wind turbine is estimated from 25-30 years, if it is maintained properly. "Every six months they come out and do maintenance," said Engstrom, the other Ameresco account executive.

Engstrom said that during construction the soil where the wind turbine is located did not stand up to what they originally thought it should be. "We just doubled the amount of concrete," he said. "That foundation isn't going anywhere."

Engstrom explained that any wind farm's efficiency is 40 percent of the time.

He said that the India company is planning on constructing 100 wind turbines in Minnesota. "They have thousands in Europe."

"They're the McDaddy of wind turbine manufacturers," said Taggart.

Dr. Tim Ayers said that he was a little disappointed with the projected energy savings being only two-thirds of the district's energy needs. He said they were under the understanding it would provide all the energy needs.

"It was downsized as to what our expectations were," said Rodocker.

Engstrom said the Vestas was completed six months sooner than the German turbine would have been completed.

Another board member asked about guarantees.

"We anticipated the wind speed," said Engstrom. "We really can't control things like the wind."

"It could be down this year and then up the next," said Taggart.

The district is working with MidAmerica Energy on a purchase option for excess power generated by the Sherrard wind tower.

The district's payback on the wind turbine is 15 years, but the board decided to go with a 10-year payoff.