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Wind-farm options given to the North Adams board

November 11, 2010

    North Adams school officials were just checking to see which way the wind is blowing. And presently it's pretty calm out there.
    School board members listened Tuesday to a sales pitch seeking the local school district's investment in a statewide wind farm project. And they did so armed in advance with a legal opinion from state attorneys that such investments are not currently permissible.
    Representatives from Performance Services, the Indianapolis firm which led the first design-build school construction project in the state at South Adams Schools a few years back, made a presentation to the board outlining two wind farm options which they claimed would benefit the district financially.
    Scott Zigmond, vice president of sales and marketing at Performance Services, told board members about his company's project in Tippecanoe County. The project, named Performance Park, calls for the construction of a 50 megawatt wind farm that would include 25 wind turbines. He said the firm is looking for 25 school corporations to invest in a private-public partnership, with participating schools expected to see an 11 percent return on their investment in the form of lower energy costs.
    Another option outlined by Zigmond would be a single-turbine wind farm constructed locally, on property owned by the school district. The Performance Services exec called wind farm investments "a hedge against rising energy costs and an alternative to (taxpayer approved) operating referendums."
    Prior to the presentation, however, North Adams Superintendent Wylie Sirk had furnished board members with a letter from Bruce Hartman, an examiner with the Indiana State Board of Accounts, that cited various sections of the Indiana Code which spell out permissible investments on the part of public school districts.
    Hartman said in the letter that state examiners "are not aware of any provision (within the code) which would authorize a wind farm investment."
    Decatur attorney Scott Ainsworth, who serves as the board's legal counsel, concurred with that interpretation of state law.
    "I agree with the State Board of Accounts. We can't make at-risk investments" that are not backed by federally secured institutions, he said.
    Hartman's letter said "the possibility might exist" that construction of a wind farm on school property "to be self-sufficient for energy needs" would be allowable. He said such decisions would be "fact sensitive" and would be reviewed "on a case-by-case basis."
    Sirk said school officials are simply attempting to "think outside the box" in seeking new sources of revenue for the district.
    "We are continuing to look at alternative ways we can accomplish our goals and support our programs. This is just another possibility. But I'm not going to take us down a road that is illegal," said the superintendent.

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