Enjoying a windfall

Enjoying a windfall

BY BRIAN L. HUCHEL bhuchel@dancomnews.com | Posted: Sunday, August 2, 2015 6:50 am

DANVILLE — The blades of the second wind farm in Vermilion County began turning this year and with it another round of local school districts are preparing for the financial windfall that could come as a result.

The Hoopeston Wind Farm, located just northwest of Rossville, began producing electricity earlier this year. It brings more schools into the mix as recipients see a rise in equalized assessed valuation as a result of the new turbines.

Hoopeston School District Superintendent Hank Hornbeck was “cautiously optimistic” four years ago when looking ahead at the possible additional funding that could come from the wind turbines. Now, with the blades turning, he is working toward trying to take advantage of the 19 turbines that stand in his school district.

“We’re working on the levy and seeing what it means for us,” Hornbeck said last week, adding that not a lot has been completed yet. “We’re trying to learn from Paxton, Milford and Armstrong.”

The wind farm resulted in the construction of almost 50 wind turbines along a stretch reaching from around 3 miles east of Illinois Route 49 to the Hubbard Trail Country Club north of Rossville. The Potomac and Rossville-Alvin school districts are among the other districts that will see improved equalized assessed valuation as a result of the wind turbines.

The equalized assessed valuation includes all computed property values upon which a district’s local tax rate is calculated.

A bill passed earlier this summer gave districts around the state a boost by indicating schools would receive 92 percent of state funding they should receive, rather than 89 percent.

Hornbeck said the school relies heavily on state-funding, which came up at less-than-expected levels a year ago. It is a boon to have an extra source to provide funds.

“It’s always a question mark of what we’re going to get funding wise from the state,” he said. “It’s good anytime you can have additional revenue coming into your district locally.”

Winds of change

County officials were given an idea in March of how schools were benefiting from the presence of the wind turbines. Danville Area Community College President Alice Jacobs and then-Oakwood School District Superintendent Keven Forney stood before members of the Vermilion County Board.

Both cited receiving more than $100,000 this year as a result of the taxation on the California Ridge Wind Farm turbines, a turnaround from the lack of funding both schools suffered in recent years. Forney championed the need for more local fiscal support, such as through the wind farms.

While Hoopeston, Rossville-Alvin and Potomac press forward on what the turbines could mean for their school districts, others in Vermilion County already have seen and put the benefits to good use.

Bill Mulvaney is superintendent of the Armstrong-Ellis Grade School and Armstrong Township High School. Four years ago, he was hopeful of what the money from the California Ridge turbines could mean for the students.

“From a school perspective, it’s been a huge success,” he said. “Revenues from the turbines have been very beneficial.”

The way school district lines fall, the high school received the benefits of 110 of the California Ridge turbines. That results in $500,000 for the high schoolers. Eighty turbines fall within the grade school’s district, translating into an additional $400,000 in funding.

The result of an additional $500,000 has been big for the high school, which was able to initiate a 1:1 program for the upcoming school year. The program puts a Chromebook tablet in the hands of each student.

“I don’t know if we’d be able to do that without that funding,” Mulvaney said. “Small districts rely so much on property taxes. I’m not sure we could have done it.”

He added: “Especially with the fact the state’s not living up to its obligation of funding districts because of the financial issue it faces.”

While the benefits have not been as drastic for the grade school, the opportunities are still there. Mulvaney pointed out the grade school operates on a budget of $1.1 million-$1.2 million, making the extra $400,000 a “pretty substantial” addition.

“We want to use those dollars to be beneficial,” he said.

The California Ridge Wind Project, owned by Invenergy LLC, has been producing electricity since the end of the 2012. The project consists of as many as 134 wind turbines, 104 of which are in Vermilion County.

The California Ridge wind farm starts along County Road 2150N just north of Newtown in Pilot Township and stretches north and west to just across the line into Compromise and Ogden townships in Champaign County.

Frugal spending

Gary Lewis is the superintendent of the Oakwood school district. With 11 of the California Ridge wind turbines standing in his district, the school is continuing to receive $100,000 of additional funding.

It’s a benefit for the school, he said, following the loss of the Dynegy power plant a few years ago. It lost between $4 and $5 million with that closing.

He noted that the turbines do have a depreciation of rate of about 4 percent, but said that hardly detracts from the schools opportunity to use the additional funding.

“It goes into our general fund and we spend as wisely and as best we can,” he said.


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