BAD AXE, Mich. – Farmer Paul Holz looks from his home in Meade Township, Mich., to neighboring townships and regrets what could have been.
Holz had signed leases with DTE Energy in hopes of placing wind turbines on his land. But resistance fomented by long-time anti-wind agitator Kevon Martis and allied out-of-town wind energy opponents led his neighbors to reject the location of wind turbines in the township.
The township board had approved the DTE project in 2013 but voters overruled them in 2015, voting 222-147 to reject the proposed wind farm.
Holz’s frustrations are more than those of someone who has lost out on money for himself. He sees the loss for his community. Financial records from multiple sources bear him out.
Adjacent townships’ finances benefit from wind taxes
Meade Township, local and state records show, has less revenue to spend on roads and services than neighboring townships that have chosen to host wind farms.
Chandler Township, according to finance records complied by cleargov.com, has $539 in revenues per person each year. By contrast, Meade has only $188 per person per year. There are 87 wind turbines in Chandler Township, Huron County records show. Meade township has none.
Census records show that Chandler Township has 543 residents, while Meade has 622.
Dwight Township, northeast of Meade, has 35 wind turbines. It has 693 residents. It draws $371 in tax revenues per person each year, almost twice as much as Meade, according to cleargov.com.
That means Meade Township’s roads that must be maintained with locally generated money are in worse condition than in neighboring townships.
“Last year we surfaced a road, and it was, ‘How are we going to do that one road?’” Holz said.
Jeff Smith is zoning coordinator for Huron County, home to all three of these townships. Smith told Checks and Balances Project that Chandler Township’s experience shows the economic benefits of wind. “They have $1 million in their road fund,” Smith said.
Overall, Huron County financial records show that $2,045,396 in wind revenues went to maintain roads in various townships with wind turbines.
Other governments have to support Meade Township
Local revenue statistics also show that Meade Township depends on money from other Michigan governments to support itself. Only 47 percent of the township’s revenues come from local taxes, while 52 percent comes from other governments – primarily state and federal.
By contrast, Chandler and Dwight townships draw heavily on wind energy revenues. Chandler receives 83 percent of its revenues from local taxes – including wind energy revenues – while Dwight receives 84 percent.
Chandler, which has the fewest residents of the three townships, collected $292,896 in 2019, the latest year for which revenues were available on cleargov.com, while Dwight collected $256,878. Meade, with no wind revenues, collected only $117,167.
Chandler officials said they have experienced a 4400 percent increase in tax revenues since the wind turbines started operating in their township.
Local schools suffer from lack of revenue
Now Holz watches as the neighboring Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port-Laker school district benefits from the extra revenues from wind turbines while schools in his district suffer by comparison.
“You ought to see the complex they put up” in Elkton, Holz said. “It’s just huge. They would have never done that without the turbines.”
The Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port-Laker school district has “a huge revenue source just from wind coming to them,” said Smith, Huron County’s zoning coordinator.
Michigan law prohibits property tax revenues generated from wind projects from being spent directly on school operations. Instead, all property tax money is sent to the state government and then redistributed to schools around the state. That’s meant to equalize per-pupil spending around Michigan, which a newly passed law targets at $8,700 per student.
Local schools, however, can use wind revenues to pay off debts from voter-approved bond issues. A 2018 bond issue approved by voters in Elkton-Pigeon authorized the wind revenues to pay off bonds for its innovation center and improvements to its athletic facilities.
Huron County finance records show the Elkton-Pigeon district received $1.46 million in wind revenues in 2020.
Some Meade Township students go to schools in the North Huron school district, which is supported by wind turbines located in adjacent Dwight Township.
Meade Township revenues
North Huron voters also approved a 2018 bond issue to support a variety of projects, including replacing roofs at the local high school and improving athletic facilities. Huron County records show the district received $418,000 in wind revenues in 2020 to pay off the bond debt.
Mike Mikus is a reporter and Ray Locker is executive director of Checks and Balances Project, an investigative watchdog blog holding government officials, lobbyists, and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP is provided by Renew American Prosperity and individual donors.
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