Powering Better Schools

How do wind farms benefit local schools?

It is common knowledge that wind farms provide significant tax benefits to local communities, but how do those dollars find their way to local school districts?

You don't need to look farther than neighboring Gratiot County to see these benefits in action. In 2020 alone, the county's wind farms paid nearly $4.7 million in education-related property taxes. Since 2012, the total amount of new education funding generated by wind farms in Gratiot County has exceeded $30 million.

To understand where these dollars go, it is important to remember how the different parts of a wind farm are taxed. A wind farm is made up of several different components. The turbines themselves are taxed as a special class of industrial personal property. That means they pay all fixed and voted millages, including sinking funds, but are exempt from 18 mills of the school operating levy (similar to agricultural land).

The parts of a wind farm that transmit the power after it is generated (collection lines, transmission lines, project substation, etc.) are taxed as utility personal property. These components pay all of the same fixed and voted millages that wind turbines pay, but also pay the school operating levy and the State Education Tax.

Over the past decade, nine Gratiot County local and intermediate school districts have seen substantial new revenue from wind development in the county:

  • $5 million in revenue to school operating millages
  • $1.5 million paid into sinking funds
  • $8.8 million in school debt/bond payments
  • Over $13 million in new revenue to Regional Education Service Districts (RESDs)
  • $1.7 million in State Education Tax payments (distributed back locally through State Aid Fund)
    (Source: https://ggdi.gratiot.orgwind-alternative- energy)

The numbers don't lie: wind energy is powering better schools across Michigan today and Montcalm County could be the next community to see these same benefits. Montcalm Wind would generate over $14 million in new education revenue over its lifetime (conservative estimate), and that is before counting taxes from utility personal property infrastructure.

In Their Own Words: Michigan Superintendents on Wind Energy Benefits:

“The wind farms, for our district, have been a wonderful contribution to the educational capabilities that we have here at Akron-Fairgrove.”
—Superintendent Diane Foster, Akron-Fairgrove Public School District, Tuscola County

“This is a lot bigger than a little funding here and there … I think sometimes we get lost a little bit in the weeds. 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.”
—Superintendent Bill Chillman, Beal City Public Schools, Isabella County

“Regardless of our feelings about wind turbines, from a financial perspective, they have been a benefit for the ISD to provide good services to our locals and to provide funding to our homes.”
—Superintendent Joe Murphy, Huron Intermediate School District

Jan Amsterburg, Former Superintendent, Gratiot-Isabella RESD:

Since 2012, local investment in wind energy development has become a significant positive aspect of the mid-Michigan region of Gratiot and Isabella counties. Our service area covers all of Gratiot and Isabella counties. We provide support services in Special Education, Technology, Business Services, Curriculum and Instruction, Career and Technical Education, and Job Training and Economic Development (Michigan Works!) services. We provide some form of support to all 12,750 kindergarten through twelfth grade students. These services may also include special education students through age 26 (as required by law) as well as job training and business placement services for the general population.

Our annual budget is approximately $35 million and comprises funding from state and federal sources, as well as local tax revenue based on local millages. This local tax revenue is a critical component for the funding stream here at GIRESD and our Gratiot County school districts, including Alma, Breckenridge, Ithaca, and St. Louis. According to Greater Gratiot Development, in 2018, total revenue from wind energy projects for the local school districts for operations and sinking funds totaled $711,145.

Total revenue for debt/bond was $776,790. For GIRESD Special Education and Vocational Education, total revenue was
$1,373,575! As you can see, the revenue collected is significant and will continue to be a substantial portion of the annual funding stream. The significant tax revenue from wind energy projects has allowed GIRESD and our local districts to maintain current services and, in some instances, increase services for our students.

Since 2019, three additional wind projects have been constructed within GIRESD. I couldn't be more pleased. It is impossible to effectively deliver quality services without ample financial resources, and our wind tax base delivers just that. In rural communities such as ours, there are few opportunities to realize additional financial resources. Without the wind revenue, we would be reducing and not improving our level of service to the local school districts.