Iowa counties see revenue with wind turbines

Page County Board of Supervisors scheduled two town-hall style meetings about wind turbines. The first meeting will be at 5 p.m., Monday, Dec. 16, in the Page Room located on the third floor of the courthouse in Clarinda. 

A second meeting will be at 5 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 18, at the Bricker meeting room in the Shenandoah Fire Department, 400 W. Sheridan in Shenandoah.

Last month, the Page County Board of Supervisors approved ordinances related to the construction and site of wind turbines. For more than the past year, wind turbine related companies have expressed interest in developing in Page County.

According to Iowa Farm Bureau in 2018, about 60 of Iowa’s 99 counties have industrial wind turbines. Wind turbines produce electricity for mass use, but they also generate a property-tax revenue for counties.

Adair County, located southwest of Des Moines, has had wind turbines since 2009 and have had extensive growth since.

Adair County’s wind turbine ordinances state the wind turbines, where multiple towers are erected in a certain area, are tax increment financing projects (TIF). Adair County agreed to receive 80 percent of the tax revenue from wind turbines. The remaining 20 percent is distributed among other taxing entities, like school districts. 

The 80 percent amount was chosen by the supervisors.

“You can choose how much of that you want,” she said.

Berg said from fiscal year 2011 through fiscal year 2018, Adair County had spent $10,690,585 from the wind turbine TIF. That averages about $1.5 million a year in revenue for the county.

Adair County had another growth spurt in wind turbines in 2012 and is undergoing another project. Berg said after all the turbines are finished, the county will have 535 turbines and no more are planned in the future.

According to Adair County Auditor Mandy Berg, the 80 percent TIF revenue is used for county roads and bridges.

“That money is used for ongoing road and bridge use,” she said, “the road projects that have been planned before any wind turbines or where wind turbines are not located.”

Because of the excessive weight of the pieces of the wind turbines, and the construction equipment used to build the towers, it’s common for the rural roads to suffer significant damage. Berg said Adair County has agreements with wind turbine companies to repair the roads after construction is complete.

“They have to be in the condition they were before they came,” Berg said about the roads. “And our county engineer has to approve the road.”

Berg said the TIF for the wind turbines expire after 20 years.

“Then it’s taxed like any other property in Adair County and it goes off the levy,” she said.

Adams County Assessor Ben Mullen said the county’s tax strategy for wind turbines was based off of Iowa Code. Adams County’s first 19 turbines were in 2012. In 2016 and 2017, another 64 were erected. Another wind turbine project is being planned.

Adams County did not tax the turbines in their first year of operation, but have a 5 percent growth of their taxable value each year afterward with a cap at 30 percent. Mullen said after seven years of increases, the revenue for the county was $1,075,000.

“The revenue from the towers will vary, slightly, based on the tax rate in the location they are in,” he said.

Cass County taxes turbines similar to Adams County. Cass County’s first turbines were in 2011 and now have 168. A certain number of those turbines’ revenue only benefits the town of Massena.

Cass County Auditor Dale Sunderman estimated Massena will have about $10 million revenue over 20 years for its needs.

“They have helped,” Sunderman said about the revenue for the entire county. “We have plans for some future projects, like new heating and air conditioning for the courthouse. It will take a substantial amount so we have put away about $500,000 a year for three or four years.”

Mullen said revenue has value, more than just paying for regular, county projects.

“Some places have had a 24 percent decrease in ag valuations,” he said. “They are good for the county. It gives you growth. A $1.2 million revenue won’t be collected from anybody else.”

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