'Windfall' Helps Texas School District
Dec 27, 2011
Many cash-strapped school districts across the United States likely wish they could harness the wind to generate revenue. In some West Texas schools, that's exactly what's being done. Is this an isolated circumstance or is it the possible beginning of an innovative way to fund public education?
Humans have been drawing energy from wind since the first windmills were created centuries ago. The use of wind as a source of energy has grown by about 30% over the past ten years or so. This clean energy alternative is especially accessible in West Texas, where strong winds frequently blow across the plains.
The science is relatively simple: winds turn the blades of a huge turbine, transferring energy from the blades to the shaft and through an electrical generator. When enough energy is harnessed, it can power homes and businesses.
Wind power is clean, fuel-free and totally devoid of emissions. And in the case of some Texas schools, it can be a ludicrous source of income.
Reaping the Benefits
For West Texas schools, it all started about ten years ago.
As part of the Texas Economic Development Act, passed in 2001, wind farms receive property tax breaks for participating in a renewable-energy project. In lieu of taxes, wind farms agreed to make payments to area school districts.
This revenue, which amounts to millions and millions of dollars (one district estimates it will have received from a 2005 wind farm deal a total of $35 million by 2019), has resulted in building improvements, scholarship funding and even the purchase of iPads for every student in seventh grade and above.
Gone With the Wind?
In 2009, the Texas Legislature, perhaps fueled by a public outcry against the funding inequality wind farm deals were creating between those schools that had the opportunity to enter into such deals and those that did not, put an end to the brokering of such deals.
The new legislation now allows schools to receive no more than $100 per student from wind farm payments. However, the fact that the wind farms are located nearby helps the schools out in another way: they lower taxes by raising property value.
A recent report from the state comptroller's office makes the argument that even the reduced payments should be stopped. Others say that the revenue generated by these deals should be added to state funding and be shared by schools across the state.
But districts receiving the revenue feel that the money should be theirs alone. One energy executive agrees, saying that the payments could be seen as 'finder's fees' for schools that put together the deals.
While legislators, school officials and watchdog groups argue over how to distribute the revenue, West Texas schools continue to reap the benefits. Many of these schools invested past revenue, or allowed it to accrue, and are now using these 'windfalls' to fund programs and make improvements that state funding simply can't cover.
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