• Steve Eberly

A “Take Charge” Moment – A Tale of County Decisions

As a former county commissioner, I know the tough decisions that local government has to face. Decisions that will affect county prosperity and progress for decades ahead. And while financial circumstances for each county are different, decisions to diversify with renewables have a track record of success in strengthening local economies, reducing the need to increase individual property taxes, and even increasing property values.

I am the first to admit that I took very few economics classes in school, but we can all agree that a mix of things going on is vital to weather the up and down swings in agriculture, the industrial sector, and population swings – all which affect the county tax base.

I watched in awe as neighboring Benton County diversified by taking advantage of their

natural resources. And I saw their tax base grow stronger. Then White County jumped on the “diversification with renewables” bandwagon.

The move to embrace renewable energy delivered dividends. The fact is that wind farms – and increasingly utility solar projects – provide a huge economic boom for counties and the local communities. They increase tax revenue, put money in the pockets of local land-owning farmers, support economic grants for community services, and more. For me it all crystalized when I saw county leaders demonstrate the confidence to upgrade highways and to initiate community projects that were previously completely out of reach before.

Renewable projects like wind and solar aren’t a cure-all, but these projects sure help to strengthen and diversify our economy for the long-term. I’ve talked about the success in Benton County before, but just to remind you:

  • Renewable firms made $26 million in economic development payments to the county;

  • Over $38 million in road improvements were greenlighted;

  • Local property taxes have dropped by 35% because of resources from renewable projects;

  • Tremendous community partnerships have developed involving enhancements to fire protection; and,

  • Best of all: property values are on the rise!

In White County and Benton County combined, just one company has made:

  • $1.3 billion in capital investments,

  • $8.5 million in payments to local government,

  • $45.4 million in payments to local landowners; and,

  • created 429 construction jobs and 48 permanent jobs! Wow!

Let’s compare that track record with a county that is currently not embracing renewable energy. Like many Hoosier counties, Clinton County (with Frankfort as a county seat) faces an uncertain financial future. A report by a well-respected national accounting firm projected that on its current course Clinton County would have a $1.1 million general fund deficit by 2023. However, with the proposed wind farm and the economic “windfall” that comes with it, that deficit could be turned into a $2.5 million surplus. In addition, Clinton County would further benefit from a $250 million local investment:

  • $30 million in tax revenue over 30 years to support local first responders, schools, and other essential services;

  • $25 million paid to mostly local labor and construction companies;

  • $25 million in lease payments to family farmers; and,

  • Many miles of road upgrades at no cost to taxpayers!

A state level leader once told me, “if you want something, take charge.” Hoosiers have this “take charge” opportunity right in front of us with the continued adoption of wind and solar. Let’s not let the opportunity to insure local economic vitality slip away.