By Eric Brunner, University of Connecticut; Ben Hoen, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Joshua Hyman, Amherst College

On the website for the local school district in Blackwell – a town of just over 300 people in rural Texas – school Superintendent Abe Gott says: “We believe that no matter your dreams, you can achieve them from Blackwell, Texas.”

To back that up, the Blackwell Consolidated Independent School District provides a postsecondary scholarship of up to US$36,000 for graduates from the district’s single high school. So far 140 students have benefited from scholarships, according to Gott.

The money that makes this possible came from a $35 million deal the school district brokered with a wind farm company in 2005, part of the massive growth of that sector in Nolan County and Texas.

The spread of wind energy in rural America has been a financial boon to school districts such as the one in Blackwell. However, because of the complexity of how schools are financed, the impact on student achievement is limited, according to a new study that we conducted as researchers in public finance, education economics and energy policy.

Windfall of wind taxes

Nolan County – one of three counties served by the school district – is home to 1,371 wind turbines that generate a maximum of 2,097 megawatts, or enough to power half a million Texas homes per year. That includes the 585-megawatt Sweetwater Wind Farm and the 735-megawatt Horse Hollow project, which was the largest in the world when it came online in 2006.

Over the past 25 years wind energy has blossomed in the United States, rising from less than 2 gigawatts of capacity in 1995 to over 110 GW last year, enough to meet more than 7% of the entire nation’s electricity supply. It provides more than 10% of supply in 14 states, and

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