ERIE, Ill. - The wind turbine erected three years ago to power the Erie Community School District buildings has not been as financially beneficial as expected, Superintendent Brad Cox said.

The $3.5 million wind turbine, built on school district grounds, was expected to pay for itself in 12 to 14 years. But because of maintenance problems that have cut into the turbine's operation time, it is on pace to pay for itself in closer to 35 years, Cox said.

Cox said part of the problem has been finding resources to provide guidance for maintenance. The turbine built in Erie is one of only five of its kind in North America, and the four others are on a wind farm in Nova Scotia, Canada, Cox said.

"Having the only one of anything in the United States is very interesting when it comes to maintenance," he said.

In August, the district began working with a maintenance worker from the Nova Scotia wind farm, and he can make adjustments to the turbine from his location, Cox said.

"It's been a very positive relationship," he said.

Cox said he is hopeful that improved maintenance will result in more operation time and more power generated, making the turbine more financially beneficial.

The turbine also provides students in the district with a unique educational opportunity, said Marla Smeltzly, who teaches sixth- and seventh-grade science at Erie Middle School.

Smeltzly uses the turbine as part of a unit for her 6th-grade students on alternative energy. The students monitor the turbine's energy production and the district's energy consumption on the district website, www.erie1.info.

She said her students also go inside the turbine and look at the controls to see how it works.

"Anytime the students have an opportunity to get hands-on, they're going to get more out of it than just reading it in a book," she said.

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