Turbines to lower school, city power bills

CONNEAUT, OHIO - The Board of Education, and later city council, approved separate agreements that authorized construction of energy-producing wind turbines.

“It's a historic day for Conneaut,” said school board member Nicholas Iarocci, prior to the board's unanimous approval of an agreement with NexGen Energy, a Boulder, Colorado company that will erect a 600 kW turbine behind Conneaut Middle School.

A short time later, city council voted 7-0 on a similar pact that will put a 400 kW generator adjacent to the city's waste water treatment plant.

The CMS turbine will produce enough electricity to handle 60 percent of the building's needs, officials have said. The machine at the sewage treatment plant will create a smaller amount.

NexGen will design, engineer, construct and install the turbines at no cost to the school district or city. In return, the recipients have agreed to purchase electricity cranked out by the machines for 10 years.

Also, the city and school district must pay a $9,500 good faith fee to NexGen that will be refunded via energy credits after five years.

The participants are hopeful the turbine-produced power will ultimately cost less than comparable energy from FirstEnergy. The school district's annual electric bill runs into the six figures, while the waste water plant is one of the city's biggest electricity users, officials have said.

The school board contract still needs “some minor tinkering,” but all the proper language should be in place (soon), Iarocci said.

Law Director Lori Lamer, at the council meeting, said the city's contract also needs some additional verbiage regarding liability and insurance. The extra language won't cost the city any money in insurance premiums, she said.

"We're not getting anything in the contract that wasn't already in place," Lamer said.

NexGen officials have said they hoped the turbines, which will sit atop towers around 150 feet tall — or higher — could be in place by spring. The company is anxious to proceed, Iarocci said.

Absent from the meeting was Superintendent Kent Houston, who is recovering from an illness. Houston, hospitalized out of the area, returned home November 22 to recuperate, said Sonny Heinonen, board president.

“It was a very serious illness,” Heinonen said. “(Houston) is having some rough times. But he's on the mend.”

In the place of the usual superintendent report, principals at all four Conneaut schools reported on recent activities in their buildings.

The regular school board meeting was attended by many members of the Conneaut Classified Employees Association, the union that represents the district's non-teaching workers. The CCEA and the board are negotiating a new contract to replace the pact that expired at the end of June. A federal mediator is assisting the talks, which have bogged down, union officials said earlier this month.

Members recently authorized its officers to notify the state of its intent to strike. CCEA members, who squeezed into the board room and spilled out into the corridor, wore badges that said “Fair and equitable contract” and “we matter too!”


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