One of Chaska’s most noticeable landmarks has had the wind knocked out of it.
A turbine, located near Pioneer Ridge Middle School and just off of Highway 212, has been shut down and bladeless since Sept. 10 for refurbishment, according to a Minnesota Municipal Power Agency (MMPA) official. The repair of the blades is part of a refurbishment and life extension project.
It is scheduled to be fixed over the next couple months and will regain its gusto in November, according to City Administrator Matt Podhradsky.
The turbine is connected to Chaska’s local distribution system and produces up to 160 kilowatts of energy per hour from the wind.
“The agency owns and maintains it, and each city has their own turbine that exists within their city,” Podhradsky said. There are 11 other cities in the MMPA.
Last year, the agency started providing energy to Elk River, which is the only city that still needs a wind turbine built, Podhradsky added.
The turbine in Chaska has been in operation for almost a decade and now needs to be refurbished as part of its maintenance cycle, according to an email from Krystal Knutson, a senior associate at MMPA. The project includes replacing the hydraulic hoses and pumps, replacement of all control systems, and cleaning and painting of the turbine tower.
The 10 other turbines in the other member cities are also down for routine maintenance, according to Podhradsky.
Turbines have a six-month maintenance schedule and the one in Chaska works during the winter. However, it is turned off occasionally because of ice buildup or if it is below approximately -4 degrees, according to Knutson.
The wind turbine was built near Pioneer Ridge so students could learn about wind power. It is located near a trail for residents to check it out. An informational sign explains how wind is converted to energy.
“Additionally, MMPA (Chaska’s wholesale electric provider) sponsors an energy education program that buses fourth-graders from member communities to MMPA’s Faribault Energy Park power plant every May. At the plant, students rotate through three stations that provide educational information about energy efficiency, renewable energy (including visiting an on-site wind turbine), and power generation and distribution,” according to Knutson’s email. “Students from both Clover Ridge Elementary and St. John’s School in Chaska participated in the program this year.”
The maintenance cost of the turbine is covered by MMPA, according to Knutson. When asked what the price of the maintenance would be, Knutson wrote in an email, “MMPA does not want to provide to this information.”
The cost would not be directly billed back to the city, Podhradsky said, adding that it is supported by rates paid by residents in the member communities.
MMPA also has 24 turbines in Blooming Prairie and 39 in Sauk Centre.
The 80-foot turbine was one of 11 shipped to Minnesota from California, for $300,000 each in 2009.
In 2009, parts for the wind turbine were delivered to Chaska and after delays from the cold winter, it was up and operational the next year.
Initially, energy from the wind turbine was spotty. The turbine had to be repaired three times in 2010. Once because it was creating loud noises, and again almost four months later after a malfunctioning brake at the Faribault site triggered the shutdown of all MMPA turbines.
Last year, MMPA installed solar panels near Clover Ridge Elementary as part of its Hometown Solar Energy program.
The idea was to put the panels near a school so teachers could tie it back to their science curriculum, Podhradsky said.
“The purpose of the grant program is to provide an educational asset to our member communities and to help teach local youth first-hand how sunlight is converted into electricity, as well as the unique characteristics of solar power,” according to MMPA’s website.
Currently, 11 of the 12 member communities have solar panel installations.
MMPA is mandated to have a quarter of its electric utilities supported by renewable energy by 2025. Currently, the agency is on track at about 21-22%, Podhradsky said.
In a few weeks, Eastern Carver County Schools will ask voters for roughly $211.7 million. If successful, the Nov. 5 referendum would cost the average household $50.58 per month.
District 112 officials say the funds are needed for crucial repairs; to build an elementary school for growing communities; to continue funding technology and security measures; and to manage classroom sizes.
“It all makes sense. These are reasonable requests,” said Zach Saueressig, a local parent and referendum advocate.
However critics, sometimes spurred on by disagreements over the district’s recent equity initiatives, advocate against the referendum.
“They’re laying out a lot of money, that’s one of my concerns,” commented Vince Beaudette, a conservative activist from Victoria, who is also critical of the district’s “equity agenda.”
The groundwork for the referendum began months ago and the District 112 School Board approved the measure in June.
The first referendum question asks for an operating levy of $550 per student, or $5.6 million per year over the next 10 years.
“The state has not kept pace with inflation on the funding formula for at least 15 years. Currently right now, it’s a gap of $6 million a year,” according to Director of Finance & Operations DeeDee Kahring.
The measure would “prevent cuts to programs and services, maintain class sizes and manage growing enrollment,” according to the district’s website.
Of student funding, 71% comes through the state, and 22% comes from district property taxes, Kahring said. The federal government funds another 2% and 5% comes from other sources.
The total cost of the question to taxpayers is somewhat variable, as the question factors in annual inflation, and it could increase or decrease depending on the number of students enrolled, according to district officials.
Gwen Michael, a Chanhassen resident who has raised questions about the referendum, argues that the inflation costs associated with the question are “hidden.”
The second question asks voters for $111.7 million. Of those funds, $35.9 million would pay for a new elementary school in Chaska; $13.7 million would build a new bus garage; and the largest portion, $62.1 million, would pay for school repair and maintenance, Kahring said.
The school, which would open in fall 2022, is needed to house an influx of 1,400 students expected to enroll over the next five years, nearly two-thirds at the elementary school level, according to district projections.
The existing bus garage only can hold half of the current buses, according to the district. If the referendum passes, the district would convert an existing commercial/industrial building at 4201 Norex Drive in Chaska into a bus garage.
The majority of the maintenance money would go to Chaska Middle School East ($22.6 million/36.6%), Chaska Middle School West ($19.3 million/31.2%) and La Academia, a Spanish-language immersion school ($10 million/16.3%).
“We went through the process to replace the boilers. Now what needs to happen is we need to replace the infrastructure with that,” Kahring said. That includes replacing 50-year-old ventilation, plumbing and electrical systems.
Beaudette takes issue with space taken up by the district’s preschool programs. “What they’ve done is take space, repurpose it from kindergarten and elementary over to preschool. Preschool is optional. It is not required in this district,” Beaudette said. “To say they don’t have the space — of course they do. They better start thinking about repurposing it back.”
“Inflated growth numbers and underrepresented student space is a consistent theme found in the reports of D112,” said Michael, who also took issue with how space was being allocated for “non K-5 programs.”
In a recent letter to the editor, Michael stated that schools can accommodate another 1,091 students.
However, argues Celi Hega, District 112 communications director, “construction capacity versus program capacity are two different numbers.” A classroom may be built for 25 children, but only hold six special education students, she said.
In order for question 2 to pass, question 1 must pass.
The third question approves a 10-year security and technology levy. It would be a continuation of a levy that was approved in 2013 to support technology for students and staff and school security, according to the district.
The district describes the question as a “no-tax increase” on its website.
“They’re selling it as something that’s not going to cost us anything,” Beaudette argues. “Well it is, because our taxes should go down.”
If the levy isn’t approved, the costs would need to come out of the general fund, which would mean cuts to other programming, according to school officials.
So far, the district has spent $58,263 informing the public about the referendum, including a recent sample ballot mailed out to residents.
“We can only market with information. We cannot advocate for a vote either way,” said Kahring.
The largest amount of district funds have been spent on a fall 2018 survey ($18,000); video production ($13,050) and a consultant ($20,875).
The consultant worked for the district as the former communications director left for a different job, and Haga came on board, according to Haga.
“If you factored in the salary savings while the director position was vacant that would reduce expenditures significantly. And while I know that these efforts are sometimes dismissed as marketing, I’d submit that any time the district goes out to its residents to ask for additional funding, we have a moral, ethical, and legal obligation to make sure residents are informed, and that’s what these dollars represent,” Haga stated.
Groups have lined up on both sides of the referendum, including “Vote Yes for the Kids” and “Concerned Parents of ISD 112.”
The district has granted data requests for the contact information of parents from pro and con referendum groups, according to Haga, including Chris Commers with Chaska Education Association; Anna Stauber with the Citizens Referendum Committee; and Beaudette with “Concerned Parents.”
Residents report receiving recent phone calls in favor of the referendum. Beaudette said he anticipates the information he collected would be used for emailing.
A group of residents recently expressed its concerns to the Chaska City Council, before it voted, 3-0, in favor of supporting the referendum.
The district’s equity work was among the items discussed during a visitors presentation.
“Equity is about political indoctrination. It has nothing to do with defeating racism,” Julie Slater, of Victoria, told the council. “So, the reason why I’m concerned as a taxpayer is our tax money has been used to implement this program, and parents like myself don’t want it anywhere near the kids, and now the district is asking for more money from us, and frankly the community doesn’t trust them.”
“I believe the district has done their homework,” said Saueressig, in a phone interview. “I believe their plan seems reasonable and good. I don’t see any critical errors in their plan or their processes.”
Editor’s note: The print version of this article included an error regarding approval of questions. In order for question 2 to pass, question 1 must pass. Question 1 can pass without the approval of question 2. Also, the total cost of the referendum questions is included with this article. An amount previously reported in June was incorrect.