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L’Anse district mulls controversial turbine project

November 20, 2012
By STEPHEN ANDERSON - DMG writer (sanderson@mininggazette.com) , The Daily Mining Gazette

L'ANSE - The L'Anse Area Schools Board of Education declined involvement Monday in a wind turbine project after a similar project through the same company created controversy in Ishpeming.

Superintendent Ray Pasquali introduced a recommendation to approve a power purchase agreement between the district and Clean Green Energy, LLC, but board members instantly raised their red flags.

"I have a number of concerns with this. ... I know that there is a lot of controversy," board member Kristy Toth said, citing concerns with the wind turbine itself and the company proposing it.

Article Photos

Stephen Anderson/Daily Mining Gazette
L’Anse Area Schools Board of Education Trustee Kristy Toth, left, shares her concerns with a proposed wind turbine during Monday’s regular board meeting. The board declined involvement in the wind project. Also pictured left to right are Board Secretary Suzette Reilley and Junior/Senior High School Principal Carrie Meyer.

She went on to raise concerns about specific language in the purchase agreement, including the district being financially responsible for relocating it if the community had any concerns after installation, such as health problems, noise issues or complaints about it being an eyesore. Also, the district would be on the hook for a 20-year commitment.

"It puts an enormous amount of power into the company's hands rather than ours," Toth continued, raising an issue that even Clean Green Energy representative Doug Russell acknowledged at the Oct. 15 school board meeting in which he gave a brief presentation.

"He admitted they have had a learning project going on with the facility they have in Ishpeming," Toth said.

A turbine installed several years ago next to the Pioneer Bluffs Apartments owned by the Ishpeming Housing Commission has turned out to be too expensive to run and there have been problems with the blades. The Ishpeming City Council wrote a letter to the housing commission in September asking them to take the turbine down. A new turbine model has been introduced which is expected to fix the problems, according to Clean Green Energy, but it does not have a track record yet.

"I don't think we need to be a learning process for them, and we have undertaken the tablet project (1:1 Technology Initiative, which will mean every student in the district has a tablet by 2015-16). That's huge. I think we should focus on what we have going and wait for more established projects to come our way rather than jumping on board with this when it's still experimental, and it is very controversial."

Board president Jason Ayres agreed, especially emphasizing concern with the 20-year contract. He also said several wind studies have been conducted in the past in L'Anse and Baraga, and "the wind isn't there."

"I don't know that I want to be the guinea pig, especially if it comes to 20 years of problems," Ayres said. "I don't know that I want to be tied to that. Maybe if they want to come to us and give us a more site-specific and purchaser-specific agreement, I would reconsider it."

Pasquali acknowledged the board's concerns and added that there would be "minimal (power) savings involved."

"If the power plant generates one-sixth of the power needed to energize the school, it's a 10 percent discount on just that portion. We shouldn't be doing this for any financial reasons," he said.

The board took no formal action on the purchase agreement, but by declining to approve it, the wind study and wind turbine will not move forward, at least at this time.

In other news during Monday's meeting, the school board:

heard a presentation from librarian Christine Collins about innovative ways she has used the district's ASUS Transformer tablets to teach. She was concerned about learning the new technology herself, but now is excited about its current and future potential.

heard an update on the 1:1 Technology Initiative from Junior/Senior High School Principal Carrie Meyer, who noted the state is looking to conduct standardized testing electronically in the future, and L'Anse is in good shape with its tablet project. She said four tablet screens have been damaged, but Pasquali put that number in perspective.

"Considering the number that have been passed out this year, the vast majority of students ... are responsible," he said. "These issues with a few students will be with us forever. We have to respond to it. I don't think the center of our discussion should be the few, I think it should be the many that are doing well. Overall, the program is successful."

heard an update on the district's sports complex project, which is still in need of volunteers to meet the match of a $440,000 Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund grant. A plea made at the Oct. 15 board meeting didn't result in much additional help. Meyer will take over the final leg of the project after Pasquali retires effective June 30, 2013.

"Ray and I have been talking a little bit about the entire DNR project and about the next phase that has to happen as far as the last building, the concessions, locker rooms, showers and all that. He's made it clear that that's going to have to be something that I'm going to have to lead the trail on," she said. "... We're going to have to apply for another grant to do this. My concern is the matching because we've had such a hard time making our quota on the match for this last project. What I'm afraid of is we're wearing through all our volunteers and they're going to burn out."

Pasquali said volunteers have done a "tremendous amount of work," but much of that work was done before acquiring the DNR grant, so it did not factor in to in-kind contributions.

The district will work on creating a list of projects to better coordinate volunteer efforts. Interested volunteers may contact the school.

heard the district's audit findings from Debbie Bradford from Rukkila, Negro & Associates CPA, PC.

"Your audit report is an unqualified opinion, which is consistent with what it has been in previous years, being that there was no findings, no illegal acts, no problems," she said. "Unqualified is a good thing."

The district started the audit period with a $973,234 fund balance and ended with a $909,719 balance.

approved appointing school board member Patricia Loosemore to the Library Advisory Board. The advisory board is still looking for another member, and people interested may contact Collins at the library. The advisory board meets at 3:30 p.m. the first Monday of each month.

approved transferring $250,000 from the district's general fund to the newly created capital projects fund for the purpose of capital improvements.

approved district policies and bylaws through NEOLA, which can be found at neola.com/lansearea-mi.

heard from Pasquali the district is transitioning from using technology contracted services through Computer Mechanix to the Copper Country Intermediate School District's Regional Educational Media Center 1 SupportNet.

heard from Maintenance and Transportation Director John Juntunen the district is considering purchasing a new three-quarter ton maintenance truck with a plow for maintaining parking lots during the day or if the district's contractor has problems. Juntunen recently pulled the "old gray ghost" 1986 truck off the road due to safety concerns, and the district's "new" truck is a 1996.

announced the hiring of noon-hour recess aide Erika Laufenberg and freshman girls' basketball coach Lauren Beeler.

 
 

 

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