PRESQUE ISL, Maine — When taxpayers approved a scaled-down version of the SAD 1 district budget last week, the cutbacks didn’t affect just the financial total; they also forced officials to revise plans for a district windmill project.
The district consists of Presque Isle, Castle Hill, Chapman, Mapleton and Westfield. After taxpayers turned down the initial budget on June 9, the board slashed the fiscal plan by $419,672. A $22.7 million budget passed.
The amendments made included the elimination of 11 positions in administrative and support areas. Additionally, the school board decided to take $150,000 out of federal funding that was set aside to explore whether windmills would be a good fit to power district schools, and use it to cover operational projects SAD 1 had funded.
Superintendent Gehrig Johnson said recently the district hopes to move forward with an alternative plan, but is waiting to see how several matters play out before proceeding.
In April, the school board authorized Johnson to spend up to $200,000 in federal funds to hire a consultant and install up to four meteorological towers at several locations in the district.
The towers are equipped with instruments to collect wind data at various heights to ensure suitable wind speeds for wind energy projects.
Under the plan, one meteorological tower would have been placed near Presque Isle High School’s baseball fields to see whether a windmill could power the high school and nearby Zippel Elementary School.
Another tower was scheduled to be placed near the ball fields at Presque Isle Middle School, one would have been placed at Mapleton Elementary School and the final tower would have been placed at the school farm, which is on 38 acres on State Street in Presque Isle.
At this point, however, the district is waiting to hear details of an ordinance the Presque Isle Planning Board is working on to manage small wind energy systems. The ordinance, which manages the siting and operation of small windmills, remains under consideration by the board.
The district also is waiting to secure the necessary permits.
“Our original plan is on hold, but we are looking at another idea and are waiting to see about the ordinance,” Johnson said. “We are just working through the process.”
In the meantime, Johnson said, district officials are exploring the idea of proceeding with a revised plan that could have SAD 1 place two meteorological towers instead of four.
“We still would like to proceed with at least two towers,” he said.
Johnson said that one of those would be placed at the Mapleton school, while the other would be positioned at Presque Isle Middle School.
“We will just have to wait and see,” said Johnson.
The district is not the first educational institution to explore wind power.
In May, the University of Maine at Presque Isle commissioned its 600-kilowatt windmill, which is located approximately 30 yards from the baseball fields. The turbine will produce about 1 million kilowatt-hours of electricity a year and save the institution more than $100,000 annually in electricity charges. It also is expected to save an estimated 572 tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere each year.
Presque Isle is the first university campus in the state, and one of only a handful in New England, to install a midsize wind turbine to generate power.