SIUC agrees to pursue prospect of wind power

Friday, February 12, 2010

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The prospect that wind may someday provide Southern Illinois University's flagship campus with some of its electricity inched ahead Thursday, as the system's governors signed off on a study of the potential costs and funding sources.

The Carbondale school's board of trustees assigned Phil Gatton, who oversees the campus' power needs, to look into what it would take to put a wind turbine on campus. But school officials cautioned it was just a first step.

"You're not going to see a wind turbine spring up there in the next few months," Rod Sievers, a spokesman for the school, told The Associated Press. "They're a long way from that."

It was not immediately clear how much money, if any, the school might save by generating power from the wind. Gatton has said the school could get up to 7 percent of its energy from wind.

The move comes at a time when university administrators say annual electricity costs for the campus have risen nearly $3 million over the past five years. But during the trustees' meeting Thursday, board chairman Roger Tedrick stressed that the wind power must be self-sufficient and paid for by grants or savings from lower utility costs -- not financed by the already cash-strapped university, which has about 20,000 students.

The costs of Gatton's study, which also would examine any environmental impact of the turbine, could be defrayed by a "green fee" students began paying this school year to cover SIU initiatives to save energy and promote a greener way of doing business.

"This does move us in the direction we want to go in terms of alternative resources and self-sufficiency," said David Gross, a spokesman for the university system.

Gatton's final proposal on the project will be presented to the board for consideration later. A possible time frame for the study was not clear Thursday.

SIU for the past several years has considered parlaying wind into electrical power, but progress was blunted by budget constraints.

A 2007 grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community helped the university buy instruments to collect wind data that Gatton told the Southern Illinoisan newspaper recently in Carbondale "shows that we're in a marginal wind area of the state," meaning the winds aren't high but enough to ensure the turbine would pay for itself.

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