So far, the Archbold and Pettisville school districts have a “handshake” guarantee that they’re each going to receive $750,000 in grant funding to pay for commercial grade wind turbines.
That’s what both school boards learned at a joint meeting held Monday, March 1, at the Sauder Manufacturing conference room.
Aaron Godwin, of the Renaissance Group, Kirtland, told members of both boards he shook the hand of Ted Strickland, Ohio governor, who told him (Godwin) the school districts had the grant.
The questions come from when, and how, or even if, the money will be paid.
David Deskins, superin- tendent of the Archbold Area School District, said a lot of pieces of the wind turbinefi nancing puzzle are uncertain.
“The ARRA (American Reinvestment and Recovery Act) federal stimulus dollars will roll through the Ohio Department of Development. The ODOD will manage how the funds are disbursed.
“We’re having problems getting clarity” on how the program will operate, he said.
“The federal government keeps asking for more data. The state and the federal government have gone back and forth five times before releasing program guidelines,” Deskins said.
Archbold and Pettisville school districts can’t get guidance from the state on the grant program.
“They tell us the money will flow after the projects are completed and inspected,” Deskins said.
That means the schools will have to obtain “bridge financing”
Crossing The Bridge
Bridge financing is where the schools borrow money to actually pay for the construction of the wind turbine projects.
Once completed, the grant money would repay the loans, with interest.
But what if the schools commit to bridge financing, which also could be called a construction loan, and then for some reason, the state decides not to follow through?
Deskins pointed to the Fulton County Teleflex-Drivesol waterline extension project, which involved running a 12-inch water pipeline from Lyons to the Teleflex auto parts factory.
Back in 1999, Fulton County received a $385,000 grant from ODOD, then borrowed the rest of the roughly $728,000 to complete the project from the state.
But somehow, a state agency did not receive, or did not properly process, a document called the Request for Release of Funds.
That document was prepared and submitted on behalf of Fulton County by the Maumee Valley Planning Organization, a regional government agency that assists with grant programs.
As a result, Fulton County had to repay most of the $385,000 grant plus submit to other sanctions. MVPO paid $200,000 to Fulton County.
Deskins said the problem was a disagreement about a piece of paper, and as a result, Fulton County had to foot the bill.
“We are highly aware of a history of that happening,” he said.
“Do we finance the bridge loans? Is there enough of a guarantee from the state?”
Finances In Play
So far, both school districts have two grants, with a third pending.
The first was $125,000 awarded from the state in May 2008.
The second was the $750,000 ARRA stimulus grant awarded in November 2009.
The third is a $200,000 ODOD grant, which is still pending.
If all three come through, that puts the total grant funding available at around $1.1 million.
The wind turbines carry a price tag of $1.5 to $1.6 million.
The school districts could use taxpayer dollars to make up the difference, but Deskins said the goal is to complete the projects without taxpayer funds.
One To Five Weeks
While both districts have continued to put time and energy into investigating the wind turbine projects, neither has formally committed to build wind turbines.
Godwin told both boards at the March 1 meeting that they might be forced to make a decision in the next one to five weeks.
That could be in early April.
Another factor in the equation is wind towers.
Deskins said Godwin was able to locate four used towers for wind turbines. The towers are still serviceable, but the current owners are replacing them with newer designs.
As a result, Deskins said the school districts “could get a great deal” buying the used towers.
However, as of now, no money has changed hands, and if the districts don’t commit to the project soon, they may loose the bargain deal on the towers.
“We keep researching questions, we’re going to continue to explore it (wind turbines),” Deskins said.