Regardless of how we feel about wind energy, it is an industry that is growing in Northeast Missouri.

The growth of wind farms, especially the High Prairie project that will eventually be owned by Ameren in Adair and Schuyler Counties, will put more than $1M in the coffers of those local governments. Infrastructure like pipelines, transmission lines, wind energy, and business growth like Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) all lead to increased funding for local schools, fire districts, nursing home districts and funding for county priorities like gravel for roads. 

These topics create conversations about our future but the reality is if they are operated responsibly they also present opportunity. Just yesterday I visited an ambulance district who can’t keep employees because other districts offer better pay and benefits. Police departments and schools face the same issue. Adding to our tax base can help address these problems as long as property rights are respected and proper controls implemented. 

Earlier this year, the legislature passed one of my priorities: Keeping all property taxes local, regardless of who owns a wind farm. Last year it became clear that if an investor-owned utility like Ameren owned a wind farm, the property tax would be distributed to the service area throughout Missouri that Ameren serves, not necessarily local governments.

In Atchison County, Ameren plans to own a wind farm project called “Outlaw.” If we had not passed House Bill 220 then very little income would come to Atchison County from the project as northwest Missouri is not in Ameren’s service territory. I want to thank Rep. Allen Andrews, Sen. Ed Emery and others for helping right this wrong in state law.

The legislature also created a study group to review the way counties assess the property value of wind farms. Currently, it is up to a county assessor to evaluate the amount of property tax wind farms pay and it is not a consistent methodology throughout the state. It is our hope that counties and the legislature can come to some sort of an agreement to make assessments of wind farms more consistent and predictable, regardless of where they are located.

Another reform the legislature could also consider as it relates to renewable energy is that solar farms do not pay property taxes at all. State law is fairly clear that solar infrastructure should not be taxed, but some assessors have tied this up in courts and there is confusion in a path forward.

Often government regulation delays investment in the private sector. Clear, transparent, and predictable property taxes on solar energy may help encourage more communities to invest in this type of resource or encourage developers to spend more on solar infrastructure in areas like Northeast Missouri. This will in turn increase the property tax base in counties that are shrinking in size, which helps maintain services that keep our roads and communities safe.

Changes in our landscape, including transmission lines, pipelines and wind farms may or may not be what neighbors are hoping for, but it is undeniable that these projects are a rare opportunity for outside investment in Northeast Missouri. It is also a way for us to maintain or increase basic services in our area, including broadband infrastructure.

We should all work together to continue to advance Northeast Missouri while balancing property rights and neighbor issues.

Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at (573) 751-7985. You may also email me at cindy.olaughlin@senate.mo.gov.