PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Ten months after announcing a plan to explore whether windmills would be a good fit to power district schools, officials in SAD 1 have set up instruments to collect data that will help them make a decision.
Two meteorological towers were set up late last month in the district, Superintendent Gehrig Johnson said during a recent interview. One of the towers is in the northeast corner of the ball fields at Presque Isle Middle School. Another is on farmland near Mapleton Elementary School.
The towers are equipped with instruments to collect wind data at various heights to ensure suitable wind speeds for wind energy projects.
“We will keep the towers up for close to a year,” Johnson said. “That will give us data that we will use to make a final decision.”
The district consists of Presque Isle, Castle Hill, Chapman, Mapleton and Westfield.
Officials in SAD 1 began considering the idea of using windmills to power its schools and help cut electricity costs last April.
The original plan called for the district to look into installing up to four meteorological towers at several locations in the district.
Under the plan, one 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.
The idea proved to be too expensive and the district was met with restrictions by the Federal Aviation Administration, so the plan was scaled down to two towers.
Johnson said that if the data prove favorable, the district could consider using windmills to power Mapleton Elementary School and Presque Isle Middle School.
The superintendent said he and other district officials have long been thinking about how to cut electricity costs. He pointed out that SAD 1 is facing “very difficult financial pressures.”
“We will not keep our budget balanced by simply continually cutting positions and programs,” he said. “We need to reduce our fixed costs where possible.”
Electricity is the biggest fixed cost, according to Johnson, with the district spending $375,000 a year on it.
If the district were able to use windmills to power two schools, Johnson said, its electric bill would be “substantially lower.”