UI wants $1.2 million from students for wind turbine

A university official told me on Friday that it was likely the budget for the wind turbine proposal for unincorporated Urbana would overrun its $4.5 million maximum, and that university officials were unsure of where that money would come from.

According to Students for Environmental Concerns, the student group which conceived of the project seven years ago, apparently the university is looking to the students. From a press release:

On Friday, the University’s Division of Facilities and Services released a final budget for the wind turbine project $700,000 over original estimates, and asked the Student Sustainability Committee, which allocates funding from student fees, to fund the difference.

That puts the budget for the project at $5.2 million. And the Student Sustainability Committee, the group with the authority to allocate the money students pay each semester for a "sustainability fee," has already promised $500,000 for the project from that fee. Another $700,000 would bring that total to $1.2 million. (The rest of the budget: $500,000 from the chancellor's office, $500,000 from the president's office, $1 million from the Facilities and Services department, and a $2 million grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation. By the way, organizers are facing a tight deadline on that grant, too.)

And the student group doesn't sound happy about it. The release quotes the student group's vice president as saying most of the extra money is "unreasonable" and anything beyond the $500,000 promised by the student group is the university's responsibility. Among those "unreasonable" costs:

The budget released by Facilities and Services includes a $213,000 construction contingency, even though the bid for the turbine is a turnkey proposal, meaning that the University is not responsible for most of the construction, and removed from construction cost increases. The budget also includes a five year maintenance package, inflating the budget by $320,000, though normal procedure is to pay maintenance costs as revenue is derived from the turbine.

As if the project didn't already have enough problems. Nearby residents aren't sold on the plans, and Urbana city officials are questioning the university's authority to disobey a local zoning ordinance. Now there appears to be a risk of alienating the project's biggest supporters.

The UI contends the project will help the university become a carbon neutral campus within coming decades. It would only offset 1 percent of the campus' electrical needs, but officials say it's an important first step.

Interesting to note that the student group estimates the wind turbine would offset $250,000 in electricity per year. If the wind turbine lasts 20 years (which is about what can reasonably be expected), the $5.2 million puts the turbine's cost at $260,000 per year.

All of this, I'm sure, will make it into the discussion during tonight's public meeting to update interested parties on the project. That meeting starts at 7 p.m. at the Urbana Civic Center, 108 E. Water St.

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