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News from the week of January 22, 2003

Wind power is terrific, until consumers asked to pay extra

By Nancy L. Torner

Center for Rural and Regional Studies

People across Southwest Minnesota say they favor wind power.

Getting them to pay extra for it is another matter, according to those who supply the region with electricity.

In surveys taken by utility companies, between 30 and 40 percent of customers tend to say when polled that they would pay premiums for green energy, Brain Draxten, manager of budget and forecast for the Otter Tail Power Co. said.

"Then what happens is when utilities come out with their actual program and allow people to subscribe, the ones that will actually pay the money is more like 1 or 2 or 3 percent," Draxten said. "Money is the detriment there. Everybody thinks it's a good idea, but maybe not good enough to pay for."

Wind power, sold as yearly subscriptions in blocks of 100 kilowatts, costs a premium of anywhere from about $1.40 to $3 per block per month, depending on the supplier. This means that for these blocks, people pay about 1.4 to 3 cents on top of the usual rate per kilowatt.

Prices are dropping as large wind farms like those on Buffalo Ridge reap economies of scale, but the industry still must rely on state and federal subsidies to offset costs, Draxten said.

"We've made wind grow and become viable kind of artificially, and really, for it to be successful in the long run, it needs to be viable on its own merits," he said. "It's a long ways away. But my personal belief is that we will see it take off; as energy costs rise, wind will become increasingly viable."

Daycare center plans progress

Planning continues for the development of a new, non-profit childcare center in Tracy.

Louise Noomen, administrative assistant for the Tracy Economic Development office, told EDA members last week that two sets of plans are being drafted for the center. One plan is based upon remodeling an existing building in Tracy. Another is for new construction. Dan Anderson of North Star Modular Homes of Tracy and Marshall is drawing up the plans.

Tracy Kid's World—the non-profit organization formed to spearhead the project—recently qualified for a $5,000 planning grant. Noomen said that $4,000 of the grant is earmarked toward drawing up the plans. The remaining $1,000 is budgeted for time she spends on the project.

The daycare center is meant to alleviate a shortage of child-care services in Tracy.

"If we can get this built, it would be another feather in our cap to help us attract more young families to Tracy," said Robert Gervais, Tracy community development director.

School boilers arrive

The delivery of new boilers this week marked the beginning of a $1.3 million heating, ventilation, and air conditioning project for Tracy Area Public Schools.

New boilers for Tracy Area High School and Tracy Elementary arrived Monday morning. The boilers were unloaded using a crane, which was also used to pull the old chiller unit out of the high school.

Temporary walls were removed in order to bring the new boilers into the respective boiler rooms.

The proposed timeline for the project has completion targeted for Feb. 15.

The HVAC project includes the installation of the new boilers at each school, as well as new chillers, digital controls, four cabinet unit heaters at the high school, and duct system cleaning. The project will be paid for over a five-year period out of the levy referendum.

The current heating and cooling systems at both schools are original from their construction in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Band selected to place wreath at Arlington National Cemetery

Members of the Tracy Community Band have been selected to place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near Washington, DC. next summer.

Clint Peterson, community band director, was notified of the honor in a Jan. 6 letter from Thomas Groppel of the U.S. Army's Memorial Affairs Division. Peterson plans to have several of the band's military veterans place the wreath at the memorial. Up to four people can be chosen.

The Tracy Community Band will be in Washington, DC July 28-31 as part of a National Festival of States concert series. The 40-member group was invited to represent Minnesota by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association and Anthony Williams, District of Columbia mayor. The band will perform three concerts in the Washington, DC area. Possible sites are the Naval Plaza, a veterans' home, and either the Lincoln Memorial or the Jefferson Memorial.

Although the band has been invited to participate in the wreath-laying ceremony, the group will not perform at the monument.

The "Tomb of the Unknowns" is one of the America's most venerated military memorials. Located in Arlington National Cemetery, the memorial contains the remains of three unidentified servicemen who symbolize the sacrifice of all American veterans who died in the nation's 20th century wars.

Firemen suit up for icy rescues

If the Tracy Fire Department is ever called upon to rescue a child who has fallen through the ice on a pond, lake or river, they are now better prepared to handle the emergency.

Thanks to over $1,800 in recent donations, the department has bought four cold-water rescue suits. The suits are designed to protect rescuers from cold water and keep them buoyant. The suits cost $400 each.

On Dec. 22, personnel from the Tracy Fire Department and the Tracy Ambulance Service assisted with the rescue of two fishermen who fell through the ice at Lake Yankton near Balaton. Some personnel from neighboring towns used cold-water rescue suits during the operation.

Fire Chief Dennis Vandeputte said the department is thankful for the contributions that made it possible for firemen to buy their own cold-water suits.

"The money just came in," he said.

The contributors included: Tracy American Legion, Larry Schmidt, Steve and Deb Schenkoske, George and Lori Hebig, and Ken and Colleen Schiller. There also was at least one anonymous donor.

Besides the cold-water suits, the fire department also bought two floating bags—each attached to 90 feet of rope. The bags can be thrown to someone struggling in the water.

More rental income needed for Fifth St. Apartments

Income for the Tracy Economic Development Authority's Fifth Street Apartments fell short of the breakeven point in 2002.

An annual financial report shows that the cash balance for a Fifth Street Apartment fund declined by about $3,000 last year. The fund balance also declined the previous year.

Dave Spencer, City of Tracy finance director, told EDA members Friday that the decline is a concern because if the trend continues, someday rental income won't be enough to cover 100% of the annual bonded debt obligations on the apartments.

The EDA owes about $455,000 on bonds that were sold to build the two Fifth St. four-plexes in 1998. Annual principal and interest payments, which are scheduled through 2028, are about $34,000.

The current fund balance for the Fifth St. Apartments stands at $37,163, down from $40,275 a year ago. If the balance continues to drop at the same rate as last year, the fund would be eliminated in less than 12 years. If the fund balance is gone, and if future rental income isn't enough to pay expenses, taxpayer money could be needed to help pay off the bonds. The bonds are guaranteed by the City of Tracy.

Robert Gervais, Tracy Community Development director, said that the declining fund balance is an occupancy issue. The Fifth St. Apartments, he said, need to be near 100% occupancy in order to breakeven.