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Opinion | Wind energy is generating new opportunities at Beal City Schools

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As a former Earth Science teacher, I have long supported harnessing our planet’s natural resources — the wind and the sun — to generate electricity. Today, as a school superintendent, I have seen that wind and solar energy can power far more than only our homes and businesses. They can power new opportunities for students, teachers and entire school districts through the benefits they bring to communities that host them.

William C. Chilman IV is superintendent at Beal City Public Schools in Isabella County.

In early 2021, the Isabella Wind project was completed and began operations in our community. The new 383-megawatt, 136-turbine project was the largest wind project constructed in Michigan. In total, 83 of those wind turbines are located in the Beal City School District and our school building sits in the heart of the wind project.

Prior to the project’s approval, our school district passed a supportive resolution because we could see the huge benefits the project would bring to our community, not only through hundreds of construction jobs and new long-term careers for future graduates, but also the millions of dollars in new tax revenue it would bring to local school districts like ours and other local governmental agencies.

In the project’s first two years of operation, it has already generated more than $10 million in new tax revenue for Isabella County, local townships, and local school districts, including more than $1.5 million to Beal City Schools alone.

On August 9, voters in our district passed a millage proposal that will raise more than $11 million to pay for new buses, construct additional classrooms, make our bathrooms ADA-compliant, and remodel the school stage, among other upgrades.

The amazing thing is that despite that $11 million price tag, tax bills for residents in our district are not increasing one dime to pay for the upgrades. And that’s thanks to the new revenue generated by the wind project. Before the project was built, one mill ($1 in property taxes for every $1,000 of taxable value) generated about $75,000 in revenue. With the wind farm, that same one mill now generates almost $260,000. Taxable value in the district has increased significantly because of the taxes paid by DTE on the wind turbines, collection lines, and other project infrastructure.

Thanks to the wind farm, we are going to be able to modernize our school district and have the kinds of resources and amenities a small rural school district like ours typically would not be able to afford — and we are far from the only district seeing these kinds of benefits from wind energy. School districts in Gratiot County have received more than $40 million in new tax revenue from wind projects since 2012.

I am incredibly thankful for the new opportunities that Isabella Wind will be generating for our community for decades to come. When I talk to my students about the project, they wonder why we had not done this years ago. After all, this is a lot bigger than new funding for buses and buildings. It’s about powering a better future for the next generation.

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