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Spirit Lake district among greenest

SPIRIT LAKE, Iowa -- Students in the Spirit Lake Community School District don't need textbooks to learn about renewable power sources.

They need only glance out the window to see them in action.

With two wind turbines supplying half the district's electricity and a goal of 100 percent reliance on renewable energy, the district was a prime candidate for the Environmental Protection Agency's Top 20 K-12 Schools List, ranking ninth in the nation on a list of the largest green power purchasers among U.S. schools. It was also the only district in the Midwest to receive the honor.

The quarterly ranking, released Monday by the EPA's Green Power Partnership, reported that the district's annual on-site green power generation of nearly 2 million kilowatt-hours is equivalent to avoiding the carbon dioxide emissions of more than 200 vehicles per year, or the rough equivalent of the annual electrical needs of more than 100 American homes.

And it all started long before 'going green' was in vogue.

"In 1993 we put up our first turbine," explained Jim Tirevold, the facilities director for the district. "It is a 250-kilowatt turbine that provides power for our elementary building."

The turbine, funded by a grant from the state's Department of Energy and a low-interest loan approved by the Department of Natural Resources, went over well in the community. So well, in fact, that it paid for itself by 1998 and a second, 750-kilowatt turbine was installed in 2001.

That same year the district came close to its goal of using 100 percent renewable energy, Tirevold said.

"Since 2001, we've had some major construction projects; we've added geothermal heating and cooling at our high school facility, which doesn't use fossil fuels, it just uses electricity," he explained. With about 51 percent of the district's electricity now being supplied by two turbines, the district is considering adding a third.

The second turbine, partially financed by a no-interest loan from the Iowa Energy Center, should be paid off in 2011, Tirevold said.

"When that's done, the district should save approximately $150,000 a year with both turbines," he added. "Any time we can spend money on academics rather than electricity that's beneficial."

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