#WindPoweredSchools create new possibilities

This entry originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

We all want our children to have the brightest futures possible, and wind power helps check a lot of the boxes we envision when we think of the opportunities we’d like them to have: well-paying jobs, clean air and healthy communities.

But there’s another way wind is ensuring success for the next generation — it’s strengthening schools across the country.

It’s not easy to run a school district in the rural parts of America. Small populations and low tax bases mean resources can be scarce. Our children’s education is one place we never want to skimp, so that presents a challenge. During the recession years, these pressures were only intensified.

However, communities hosting wind farms have gotten a substantial shot in the arm. The exact path can vary depending on town and state, but wind farms often greatly increase property taxes or make payments directly to school budgets.

And that can mean a lot of extra resources.

A study from Oklahoma State University released this fall, for example, found wind projects in the Sooner State will pay counties and schools over $1 billion during the projects’ lifetimes.

We recently heard from Cheryl Steckley, school superintendent for Lowville, N.Y., about what hosting a wind farm has meant for her district. Partially because of the project, Lowville schools offer 11 AP courses, college-level classes, have new athletic facilities, and soon, every student grades three through 12 will have his or her own laptop. During the recession, at a time when many neighboring schools were laying off teachers, Cheryl’s district was actually able to increase its staff.

“We would not have had the resources to have all of those staff onboard, or to have some of the programs we have, absent the revenue we’ve received from the (wind farm),” Cheryl explained.

The hard work of Lowville’s staff, combined with these added resources, is reflected in student performance. Lowville schools ranks favorably both nationally and in New York State, and Syracuse University is currently studying the system because it has performed so well relative to other districts from similarly less well-off areas.

The nearby Maple Ridge wind farm has meant so much to the Lowville school district that a swim team named itself The Turbines.

“The wind project is certainly a part of our district’s landscape. Our students go to the wind farm for field trips. They study wind and green energy in their classrooms. It is part of who we are, it is part of what we see as part of our school district,” Cheryl said.

And the best part of Lowville’s story is that it isn’t unique. Other districts across the country have experienced similar outcomes after wind farms were built nearby.

In Ohio’s Lincolnview school district, revenue from a nearby wind project helped the school provide every student with a laptop or tablet. In Spearville, Kan., wind revenue helped pay for a new school gym which the whole town can use. In West Texas, wind farm payments made it possible to build a new football stadium. And that’s just a sampling of the educational opportunities wind power has created.

With enough installed capacity in the U.S. to power 20 million homes, wind energy is already doing a lot to create a better future. Its contributions to our education system, and subsequently our children, are benefits that shouldn’t be overlooked.

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