Officials with the Grinnell-Newburg school district are hoping to pull the plug on their electric bill with renewable energy. School board member Leo Lease is working on a project to bring wind energy to the district. Lease says his vision is to be completely independent in electricity production by combining wind energy with fuel cells. He says that would allow them to continue holding classes even when the power is out for others.

A wind tower and turbine would cost an estimated seven to eight million dollars, but Lease says the district pays $30,000 a year in electric bills, and return would be worth it. He says it’s a unique opportunity to have an “ongoing input to the general fund that’s not based on taxes.” Lease says the money not spent on electric bills would go into the classroom. And he says excess electricity could be sold back to the power company.

Superintendent Edie Eckles likes the idea. “It is our responsibility as a district to explore every avenue to generate revenue…to explore legitimate avenues of revenue streams for our school district,” Eckles says. She says other districts in Iowa and other states have successfully used wind power to generate their own electricity. Eckles says they have the money available to invest.

Eckles says they were able to refinance their general obligation bonds to a lower rate, and have paid off early their sales tax revenue bonds, which gives them another source. Lease says a wind turbine would help increase the tax base of the community.

“As soon as we do something like this that is forward-looking, then it brings other people to town, it increases those taxes and makes keeping up with the technology and improving it in the future something we are doing as a matter of course,” Lease says. Lease says the next step is to bring in an engineer for more study and analysis.

By Chris Johnson, KGRN, Grinnell