Opinion | Wind turbines helping fund schools? It’s happening in Michigan

Peter Sinclair

Peter Sinclair is a Midland-based videographer specializing in energy and environment issues.

Across Michigan and the Midwest, rural communities have been devastated by loss of manufacturing and continuing pressure on small farms and farm families. The resulting loss of revenue has devastated small-town schools.

But as wind farms have come to counties across the state, schools have found an important new source of funding. Intermediate school districts in areas where there are large wind farms are collecting more money from millages, which then can be distributed to local school districts.

Huron County has the highest concentration of wind turbines in the state. In 2015, Huron Daily Tribune broke down how wind revenue is distributed across the county. According to the newspaper:

“Elkton-Pigeon-Bayport Laker Schools’ take was more than $1 million. Superintendent Bob Smith said it makes a huge impact on school bonds and sinking funds.

“You’re getting most of your debts repaid at 40 to 50 percent reduction,” Smith said. Smith said the district plans to redo a technology bond to purchase 3-D printers and add to its robotics education. It would cost taxpayers half as much than with past millages, “because wind turbines generate so much,” Smith said.”

Gratiot County is right behind Huron County in numbers of wind turbines. According to Jan Amsterberg, superintendent of the Gratiot Isabella Regional Education Services District, “The wind funding has been significant -- it’s allowed us to keep program funding at roughly the same level, and we haven’t had to decrease funding as other intermediate school districts have had to do in the economic downturn, it’s allowed us to keep programs whole. It’s been a lot of benefit to our local communities.”

University of Michigan researcher Sara Mills agrees. “Introducing new services, hiring more teachers, is something that most local governments don’t have the luxury of doing, but in places with wind farms they have been able to maintain if not improve some services.”

With this in mind, nearby communities have supported expansion of wind parks in their areas.  Several townships in Isabella County, just north of Gratiot, recently voted overwhelmingly in support of a large new wind development. According to Bill Chilman, superintendent of nearby Beal City Public Schools,  “It helps the community bring that tax base in for the bonds, and those sinking funds. Obviously, if the community so chooses, they can go back after those avenues of funding with renewals or extensions and add better equipment, better facilities for their students in a given area.”

New data show that this kind of support for schools makes a difference. The Toledo Blade recently reported on long-term effects of increased funding from wind turbines on school graduation rates and test scores in an Ohio community. 

“At Paulding County’s Wayne Trace Local School District, a higher percentage of students have been graduating and more have scored in advanced and accelerated categories for achievement since revenue from wind farms began coming in, according to state test scores. Superintendent Ben Winans said there has been $4.5 million in turbine revenue since 2014, which has allowed the district to hire 18 additional staffers — mostly for special needs and intervention. Some $848,235 came in the last fiscal year. “We wouldn’t be able to do this without them,” Mr. Winans said of the giant turbines.”

Over and over again in wind country, there’s a sense of being part of a bigger picture. “This is a lot bigger than a little funding here and there … I think sometimes we get lost a little bit in the weeds,” said Beal City’s Chilman. “When I listen to kids talk about this, they’re like, ‘Why haven’t we already done this, Mr. Chilman?’ That’s the questions I get, from the future.”

“This is what we have to do for the future of our country,” Chilman said, “and quite frankly, for the future of our world."

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Comments

Frank Koob
Mon, 08/26/2019 - 9:38am

Thank you for this fact filled opinion article. Wind farming for schools is actually a wind - wind deal. Obviously our Farmers need another way to make money. They can use land that isn't producing good cash crops for a field of windmills. The schools that are cash-poor can use some money to better educate students. The environment is in crisis. Anything that can keep us from using fossil fuel that produces carbon by products will help. Let's hope that our politicians keep their hands off this tax money and allow it to keep flowing into these needy schools particularly in our agricultural areas where Farm crops are not bringing enough money and Industry is leaving. So it's actually a win - win - win situation. The need to act is now. We are in a crisis in many ways. Let's hoist pants for action!

Frank Koob
Mon, 08/26/2019 - 9:38am

Thank you for this fact filled opinion article. Wind farming for schools is actually a wind - wind deal. Obviously our Farmers need another way to make money. They can use land that isn't producing good cash crops for a field of windmills. The schools that are cash-poor can use some money to better educate students. The environment is in crisis. Anything that can keep us from using fossil fuel that produces carbon by products will help. Let's hope that our politicians keep their hands off this tax money and allow it to keep flowing into these needy schools particularly in our agricultural areas where Farm crops are not bringing enough money and Industry is leaving. So it's actually a win - win - win situation. The need to act is now. We are in a crisis in many ways. Let's hoist pants for action!

Don
Mon, 08/26/2019 - 9:51am

That is all and good, BUT like the lotto money for every $ from the lotto a $ is taking out of the school fund that Our property taxes pay!!! So it in and a win for the schools,, AND why has not the democrats taken the republicans to court over giving public school money to charters schools?????

Frank Koob
Mon, 08/26/2019 - 9:43am

This is a wind - wind situation. Our Farmers need Revenue that can come from land that is not producing properly for them now. The schools need new funding opportunities for better education. The environment is in crisis and doesn't need the burning of more fossil fuel to create energy. Win - win - win. Let's hoist pants for action!

Pamela Reed
Thu, 08/29/2019 - 10:11pm

This op-ed is entirely misleading. The researcher at U of M who is quoted in this opinion piece co-authored a panel paper entitled, “Money Blowing Through: The effect of Wind Development on School Finances.” If you google it, you will read its conclusions:
“We conclude that the entrance of wind development has not affected the budgets of school districts in Michigan. This is largely related to Michigan’s redistributive school funding. In this specific case, wind developers should be careful in promoting the benefits to local schools and not overstate the impact of their taxes. More generally, industries entering an area should understand how the financial policies of a region will affect the school budget in order to set realistic expectations about their affects.”

Doug
Sat, 08/31/2019 - 11:41am

The daily operating budgets of local school districts would be affected very little, but this article is mostly referring to the income coming into the district when voters pass bond measures for investments in upgrades to equipment and technology. Since wind farms (like all property owners in the district) pay the levies to pay off the bonds, the bonds would be paid off faster and/or generate more income than anticipated when the voters approved them. This benefits the districts and the taxpayers. The other people quoted in the article are superintendents of ISDs, which receive a larger portion of their support from local taxes than local school districts do. (Local school districts in Michigan are primarily funded with a per pupil allocation from the state.) The one local school district that is quoted is from Ohio (and should NOT have been included in an article about financing Michigan schools). Thus, for school bond measures and for ISDs, any new construction and property investment in a community will significantly improve that bottom line. And this same effect occurs if a new subdivision, retail center, or anything else is built in a local community.

Christopher Edwards
Mon, 08/26/2019 - 10:05am

Not buying it. People move out because of the health destroying windmill noise. Wind farms (and green energy) are the biggest scams going.
Wind Energy, a big scam
Credit: The Leader | April 4, 2019 | www.clintoncountyleader.com ~~

Wind energy may be the biggest scam in the U.S. I am a retired engineer with over 30 years’ experience working with electric utilities. I have been against wind turbines ever since they were first introduced.

Wind turbines are not economically viable and are only built because of the billions of dollars in tax incentives that is being wasted by our government to support them. Our government plans to spend over $40 billion over the next nine years in support of wind energy. I have a letter from US Representative Sam Graves in which he states, “We should not be providing tax incentives for a source of energy that is not economically viable. Instead, we should focus our efforts on alternative energy sources that can support themselves.” Even with the tax incentives, everywhere wind turbines have gone into production, electric rates have gone up.

Despite all of the media hype, wind energy is not “green.” First of all it does not and cannot replace any of the fossil fuel generators currently in production because it is too unreliable. Wind turbines require a minimum wind speed of 10 MPH to operate and 25 to 31 MPH to reach full output. In Northwest Missouri, the average wind speed is below the 10 MPH threshold, on average, about 250 days per year. Factoring in the steel required to build the wind turbines and the energy that they burn to keep the rotors turning slowly when not generating, they have a negative impact on the environment.

Wind turbines create health and environmental problems in the communities where they are installed. Property values are also reduced because nobody wants to live among them. In the letter referenced above, Rep. Graves acknowledges that, “new wind farms projects come with real, negative consequences.”

With all of the wind turbines currently installed in the US, they represent less than eight percent of the electric generation. Bottom line is that we can’t build enough wind turbines to really do any good, and even if enough capacity was built, it is still too unreliable to do any good. The large developers installing the wind turbines don’t care about efficiency, meteorological data, or community concerns. It is all about the money, the tax incentives. We need to stop the tax incentives, and then all the other problems will go away.

Fred Campbell

Clarksdale, MO 64430

Chris
Mon, 08/26/2019 - 11:09am

I live right smack in the middle of the windmill farm in Gratiot County. In fact, they are building numerous new turbines within a mile of our house. There is absolutely zero negative impact on daily life or health. Our home value continues to increase, our schools, parks and roads all benefit from these revenues. And while nobody exactly WANTS to live right next to a piece of infrastructure, these things are far less offensive from an aesthetic, odor, health or environmental perspective than the oil and natural gas wells that used to dot this county.

Christopher Edwards
Mon, 08/26/2019 - 10:10am

Not buying it. People have to move away from the health damaging wind farms thereby reducing millage. Windfarms cost more than they save by a long shot. Please read:
Wind Energy, a big scam
Credit: The Leader April 4, 2019 Clinton County Leader

Wind energy may be the biggest scam in the U.S. I am a retired engineer with over 30 years’ experience working with electric utilities. I have been against wind turbines ever since they were first introduced.

Wind turbines are not economically viable and are only built because of the billions of dollars in tax incentives that is being wasted by our government to support them. Our government plans to spend over $40 billion over the next nine years in support of wind energy. I have a letter from US Representative Sam Graves in which he states, “We should not be providing tax incentives for a source of energy that is not economically viable. Instead, we should focus our efforts on alternative energy sources that can support themselves.” Even with the tax incentives, everywhere wind turbines have gone into production, electric rates have gone up.

Despite all of the media hype, wind energy is not “green.” First of all it does not and cannot replace any of the fossil fuel generators currently in production because it is too unreliable. Wind turbines require a minimum wind speed of 10 MPH to operate and 25 to 31 MPH to reach full output. In Northwest Missouri, the average wind speed is below the 10 MPH threshold, on average, about 250 days per year. Factoring in the steel required to build the wind turbines and the energy that they burn to keep the rotors turning slowly when not generating, they have a negative impact on the environment.

Wind turbines create health and environmental problems in the communities where they are installed. Property values are also reduced because nobody wants to live among them. In the letter referenced above, Rep. Graves acknowledges that, “new wind farms projects come with real, negative consequences.”

With all of the wind turbines currently installed in the US, they represent less than eight percent of the electric generation. Bottom line is that we can’t build enough wind turbines to really do any good, and even if enough capacity was built, it is still too unreliable to do any good. The large developers installing the wind turbines don’t care about efficiency, meteorological data, or community concerns. It is all about the money, the tax incentives. We need to stop the tax incentives, and then all the other problems will go away.

Fred Campbell

Clarksdale, MO 64430

Norm Stephens
Mon, 08/26/2019 - 10:14am

The only townships/counties in the state of Michigan that host wind turbines have conflicted officials. That is, they receive or a family member receives a direct financial benefit by approving a weak wind ordinance or when they approve a permit for a wind development.

If you can find a township that does NOT have conflicted officials, you will NOT find wind development. So, anything quoted by a township with conflicted officials is suspect.

Norm Stephens
Mon, 08/26/2019 - 10:18am

This article was written by Peter Sinclair an admitted recipient of DTE funding. Any comments/articles by him or by conflicted township officials should be suspect. The only townships/counties in the state of Michigan that host wind turbines have conflicted officials .

That is, those conflicted officials or their family members receive a direct financial benefit when approving weak wind ordinances or wind energy permits. No conflicted officials in your township? Then you won't find wind turbines.

Fred
Mon, 08/26/2019 - 1:18pm

I don't believe you.

woody
Mon, 08/26/2019 - 4:31pm

I think if you took the time you could prove or disprove the post :)

Wolfman
Tue, 08/27/2019 - 9:27am

Boy it didn't take long for the astroturf wind haters to post their propaganda. Wind farms are being built by a growing list of corporations without subsidies. If they were uneconomical I think they wouldn't be investing in wind and solar to supply their industries. Farmers are looking to diversify from growing grain that is now increasingly becoming a risky endeavor. Changes in agriculture tax laws by Gov. Whitmer are making alternative energy a viable choice producing three times the return than raising grain during a these trade wars. Here's two articles about alternatives to traditional farming. Solar panels could be cash crop for farmers https://www.crainsdetroit.com/energy/solar-panels-could-be-cash-crop-far...?
Wind farms a cash cow for communities, but not everyone's sold
https://www.toledoblade.com/local/environment/2019/04/07/wind-farms-can-...

Abe bubush
Tue, 08/27/2019 - 2:58pm

A wind tower generator with a working life of 20 years has a net payoff of 5 to 8 months. It can power 500 homes unless you waste all your energy pasting junk science.

Matt
Tue, 08/27/2019 - 4:37pm

Whether something is viable or economically sustainable and the given that the local governmental bodies would tax it are two very different subjects. If I built a turd pyramid in hopes that it would be a wonder of the world and attract tourists from around the globe it would it could be questioned, but there is little to no question it would be taxed!