‘Windfall to some, a curse to many’: Tipton wind farm pays millions in taxes, but anti-wind sentiment remains
TIPTON – Since it opened 2012, the Wildcat Wind Farm in eastern Tipton County has generated millions of dollars in tax revenue and funded major projects around the county.
In the last eight years, the wind farm has generated $2.14 million in property tax revenue. That’s second only to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which operates a transmission plant along U.S. 31.
Just this year, the wind farm generated nearly $700,000 in property taxes. That equals about 3.3% of all money paid into the county’s general fund.
Beyond finances, the project also included the construction of over 25 linear miles of reinforced-concrete roads.
Tipton County Auditor Gregg Townsend said there’s no doubt the project has been a financial boon for the county, and without it, the county and its towns would look much different.
“We have benefited handsomely from this project,” he said. “It’s helped us tremendously. Financially, it’s helped us stay in a good position. Without that revenue, budgets would be a lot tighter.”
But that hasn’t changed the disdain many residents feel for the wind farm, even 8 years after it became operational. The development includes 125 turbines in Tipton and Madison counties that generate in total 202 megawatts of energy.
Windfall resident Fred McCorkle wrote in a 2018 letter that the wind farm is still impeding his rural way of life, and that will never change.
“You never get used to the noises, the constant motion, the glaring red lights at night,” he wrote.
Jane Harper, a former county commissioner who helped get approval for the project, said looking back, she regrets ever bringing a wind farm to Tipton County that she said has been a “‘windfall’ to a few, but a curse to many.”
“I live with the people who are adversely affected by industrial wind turbines and deeply regret having signed the documents enabling the construction of the wind farm,” she said in a 2017 op-ed piece.
And now, that anti-wind sentiment is growing around the state, even as new turbine technology has opened up the possibility of millions of dollars in new wind investment in counties that would never have been considered for a project in the past.
According to a new study by Purdue University, wind energy represents a huge investment in Indiana. Projects bring long-lasting benefits, including millions of dollars in property tax revenue and annual lease payments for Indiana’s farmers, and well-paying manufacturing and construction jobs.
But even so, wind energy is associated with skepticism, suspicion and opposition, said Russell Hillberry, associate professor in Purdue’s Department of Agricultural Economics, who helped author the study.
“There’s a lot of opposition in Indiana,” he said. “It’s not unusual.”
The study looks at community responses related to the introduction of wind energy in Indiana, and investigates why some counties oppose wind farms, while others have supported wind developments.
The study profiles Tipton County as an anti-wind county. That’s because following the opening of the Wildcat Wind Farm, the county amended its wind ordinance to make it difficult, if not impossible, to develop any new wind energy projects.
As a result of the new stipulations in the ordinance, the company juwi Wind in 2014 dropped plans to develop Prairie Breeze Wind Farm, a project that would have included 94 wind turbines.
Hillberry said Tipton County is a little unusual in the fact that local leaders turned against wind energy after a project had already been constructed.
“They understood a little bit more than other counties what they were getting, and decided they didn’t want anymore,” he said.
But, Hillberry said, what many counties that impede wind projects don’t know is how much revenue and long-lasting economic development they’re turning down. The study estimates that Indiana landowners who have contracts to house turbines on their property earn, in total, between $7.5 and $15 million every year.
Then there is the tax revenue and other payouts to local governments. In Tipton County, E.ON Climate and Renewables, which built the Wildcat Wind Farm, paid the county $1.2 million in economic development money over four years.
Auditor Townsend said that money helped pay for a slew of community projects, including a weather alert system for Tipton Community Schools, a new building for Tipton Civic Theater, improved streets and sewage systems in Windfall, and a new patrol car for Kempton.
Over $415,600 went to pay for road maintenance and repairs following a harsh winter in 2014. Currently, there is $185,400 left from the company’s payout, which will be used to build a new leachable treatment facility at the county landfill, Townsend said.
“E.ON has been excellent to work with, from my standpoint,” he said. “I deal with the financial parts of the county, and what I’ve seen this money do for the county, I’m pleased with.”
Purdue’s Hillberry said counties and local landowners can bring in huge amounts of revenue from wind developments, but that usually isn’t enough to convince local governments to sign on to the projects.
“It is a pot of gold, but if people don’t like it, they don’t have to take it,” he said. “But hopefully, this study makes it a little more clear what the trade-off is … Counties should be aware of how much money they’re turning away.”
But for some residents living around the wind farms, the money means nothing compared to the problems they say stem from living beside a turbine.
Windfall resident McCorkle said since the Wildcat Wind Farm opened, wildlife has decreased in the area. He said the turbines also wake them up at night, have caused nausea, cause houses to vibrate and interfere with cell phones and satellite service.
“Don’t let them bully you into accepting what is not good for all of the people in your county,” he wrote in a letter. “Why should most of us suffer at the greed of a few?”
Townsend said what many people don’t realize, though, is the huge amounts of money wind energy could bring to Indiana that would help pay for major improvements all over the state.
He said billions of dollars in economic development money have been lost due to local county officials all over Indiana impending wind developments.
“There are a number of counties who lost what would have been incredibly valuable projects to them because they let a small group of people threaten their political futures,” Townsend said. “ … The loudest voice is sometimes what gets heard, and in the past several years, the loudest voice has been those protesting wind energy.”
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