The large number of wind farms in Texas (and West Texas, in particular) drive a lot of revenue to the locals there. And a recent article in The Texas Tribune reports that they have driven hundreds of millions of dollars to Texas schools.
Focusing in on the benefits accrued to one school district, Morgan Smith, Axel Gerdau, and Ryan Murphy write:
By the 2018-19 school year, Gott’s district will have received about $35 million from a deal it brokered with a wind farm company in 2005. On the school grounds, $15 million from a combination of bond and wind farm revenue has paid for a new football stadium and academic complex attached to the original school building. About $28 million sits in a foundation earmarked for scholarships; graduates receive $3,000 for each year they have spent in the district, which they can put toward any type of professional advancement, from a beauty school certificate to a bachelor’s degree. The influx of wealth has also enabled the district to buy an iPad for every student, starting in the seventh grade.
Wow. That’s nothing to laugh at, makes (bad) jokes about, or call miniscule or insignificant.
“What I wanted is, if you grew up in a town of 350 people in West Texas, that should not work against you,” Abe Gott, the school superintendent at Blackwell in West Texas, said. “We can send you to Harvard, we can send you to Baylor, we can send you to Texas Tech — we can send you anywhere because we have the pathway to get there.” (Note that Blackwell even highlights its wind turbines in pictures on its website.)
69 school districts in West Texas are cashing in on a clean-energy- and education-friendly policy, and doing their best to make the most use of their new funds. The policy is “a Chapter 313 agreement, which allows districts to offer breaks on property taxes for select manufacturing, technology and renewable-energy projects as part of the Texas Economic Development Act, which the Legislature passed in 2001.”
Roscoe, Texas, not far from Blackwell, which has the largest wind farm in the world, has a wind company that is only paying taxes on $10 million, rather than the $378 the property was estimated to be valued at in 2009.
Now, a supposed loophole in the legislation is what allowed some schools to “get rich” on their wind farm projects, but apparently that time is over.
In 2009, the Legislature closed a loophole that allowed districts to negotiate unlimited side deals in which they received direct cash payments in lieu of taxes based on the savings companies received from the state economic incentives.
The side deals — and the inequity they perpetuated — led to a public outcry, and now such agreements are held to about $100 per student each year. To put that in perspective, school districts across the state spend an average of $8,572 to educate a student, according to a Texas Education Agency spokeswoman.
Nonetheless, numerous schools now have serious funds from wind projects that they are trying to maximize for the good of their students.
Additionally, schools or school districts can still benefit from partnering with wind power companies, just not as much. To read more details or to read about how some schools are utilizing their money, check out the full Texas Tribune post.
One of the first things that come to my mind about this story is actually doesn’t concern wind farms, specifically. It just made me think, “Wow, imagine how much better our schools could be if we put more of our tax money into education!”