The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

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March 8, 2013

Conneaut school seeks energy upgrade as wind power bombs

CONNEAUT —  Board of Education members will seek quotes for replacing electric boilers in Conneaut Middle School with natural gas versions, an indication Conneaut Area City Schools may be ready to pull the plug on its experiment with wind power.

At a work session Thursday afternoon, the board authorized the Brewer-Garrett Company to devise a project cost for the proposed boiler conversion. At the same time, the mechanical engineering firm will examine a masonry chimney and metal roof that need attention at Conneaut High School.

A few years ago, Brewer-Garrett conducted an energy overhaul of buildings in the Conneaut Area City Schools system it guaranteed would save the district money in utility bills. Part of the upgrade was the installation of natural gas-fired boilers at some buildings to replace electric-powered versions.

Left out of the boiler switch, however, was CMS, because the school is tethered to a large wind turbine erected by NexGen Energy Solutions of Boulder, Colo. The turbine, built in January 2010, was expected to provide the school electricity at a rate that beats FirstEnergy's prices. However, the generator has never performed as billed and for more than a year has been completely inactive.

Repairs to the turbine await the outcome of a lawsuit NexGen has filed against the manufacturer. In an interview late last year, a company executive said the litigation probably won't be resolved anytime soon. Rather than wait for the legal dust to settle, the board is now mulling a middle school makeover along the lines of its other buildings.

David Smith of Brewer-Garrett said Thursday a switch to natural gas would be prudent. The change-over would cost an estimated $142,000 to complete, but over 15 years could save the district $203,000 — more if the cost of natural gas keeps dropping.

"(The retrofit) would pay for itself," Smith said.

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