Maybe electricity-generating wind turbines are not the golden goose after all. One of the challenges for local governments making wind farm decisions has been how lucrative they can be.
When Exelon and DTE Energy and others propose erecting more than $60 million dollars worth of wind turbines in a rural township, it is perfectly understandable that local officials begin to dream of chloriding the roads three times a year instead of two to keep the dust down. Some residents worry that may cloud township officials’ judgment.
In parts of Sanilac County, officials are fully alert now. They’ve learned that wind farm companies have learned a few things from big-box retailers about pushing back against property taxes. To be fair, the wind turbines in Delaware Township were not properly assessed. The township assessor relied on incorrect protocols when he set their value.
The Michigan Tax Tribunal corrected the assessments, lopping off almost 15 percent of Exelon’s property tax burden for 2013 and another 9 percent for 2014. Particularly painful for the township, Sanilac County and school districts involved is that they have to refund property taxes collected improperly for those years. None of the entities will have to cut back on services because of the rebates, but they will serve as painful reminders that the wind turbine tax revenue windfall isn’t bottomless.
There could be worse news in the future for taxing authorities that embrace wind energy. Economists now are saying the residents who oppose the relentless march of towering wind turbines across the rural countryside may be right. They may be more than noisy, nerve-wracking, bird-endangering eyesores.
They also could be bad for the bottoms lines of local governments and school districts because they do far-reaching damage to property values. By some estimates, wind turbines can depress the values of surrounding properties by as much as 20 percent. And it’s not just the neighboring parcel — the damage to property owners’ investments in their lands and buildings can extend a mile beyond the whirling blades.
If and when the owners of those surrounding properties begin pressing their own appeals to the state Tax Tribunal, the property tax windfall is going to start feeling even smaller