Gaesser Opinion: Wind is powering a rural renaissance

Source: By Ray Gaesser, Nebraska City News Press • Posted: Tuesday, August 20, 2019

More than simply securing a cleaner energy future — as if that weren’t enough — wind power is creating jobs, uplifting local economies, and supporting communities nationwide; most notably in rural parts of our country.

In fact, the production of wind energy has been and will continue to be a boon for rural America, providing financial incentives for family farms, broadening tax bases to support stronger communities, and creating jobs for hardworking Americans.

The potential for wind energy to transform communities and the American economy continues to grow nationwide. The American Wind Energy Association reported an 8-percent uptick in wind power capacity in 2018 representing more than $12 billion in private investments. Since 2010, the United States has more than doubled its wind power capacity. There is now enough installed wind capacity to power over 30 million U.S. homes with this clean, renewable energy source.

Last year, the U.S. wind industry supported more than 114,000 jobs across all 50 states and Puerto Rico as well as more than 500 domestic factories, generating more than $1 billion in revenue for states and communities in which wind farms are located. While a lot of people may hear about wind power and think of California coastlines or Atlantic deep water wind, the fact remains more than 99 percent of wind power is generated in rural parts of the country.

In fact, wind energy is now responsible for delivering more than 20 percent of the electricity produced in Kansas, Maine, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and here in Iowa — states with large rural populations. In these states, as in remote communities across the nation, wind power is providing economic benefits that help revive and reinvigorate small towns while providing America’s farmers and ranchers new economic opportunities to help keep them afloat in the face of new challenges and hardships in the agricultural community.

More than two million farms populate rural America, with 99 percent being family-owned and operated. Increasingly, more and more of these farms are choosing to get involved with the wind industry, renting out small portions of their land to generate electricity through wind turbines. The average wind farm installation leaves 98 percent of land undisturbed, so farmers can continue harvesting crops and maintaining their normal routines while taking in a new source of passive income.

The extra income from these projects provides an additional layer of economic security and stability for America’s farmers. On average, a single wind turbine lease can net landowners up to $8,000 per year. Altogether, America’s farmers and ranchers make more than a quarter of a billion dollars off of wind turbine lease payments — that figure reached $289 million in 2018 alone. In these uncertain times of tariffs and trade wars, this income is particularly important because it helps ensure multi-generational family farms can remain operational through the toughest of circumstances.

Moreover, the revenue from wind projects helps strengthen remote communities and support vital services on which we all rely. Local schools and school districts are among the biggest benefactors of the tax revenue generated by wind energy development. Wind projects help to significantly expand local tax bases, providing funding that enables small-town school districts to provide big-city educations for their students by investing in new equipment, computers and other opportunities that may otherwise be out of reach.

Increased tax revenue from wind energy projects also allows small, rural towns to invest in infrastructure improvement; fund police, firefighters, and other emergency first responders, and keep taxes as low as possible.

Most importantly, wind energy is powering job creation for rural America. Along with the solar installers, wind turbine technician roles are projected to be one of the fastest-growing jobs in America between 2016 and 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most notably, the wind industry has proven to be of particular benefit to our nation’s veterans, many of whom struggle to find employment in the private sector after leaving active duty. The U.S. wind industry employs veterans at a rate 67 percent higher than the national average, providing invaluable opportunities for employment for the men and women who have served our nation so bravely.

With American Wind Week last week and the upcoming National Clean Energy Week (September 23-27), it is important we understand the benefits wind power provides for Americans — but particularly for rural America. Wind projects have and will continue to provide a valuable lifeline for rural towns and communities here in Iowa and across the country. With continued investment and development, there is no limit to how far wind energy can take us.

Ray Gaesser serves as Board Chair of the Iowa Conservative Energy Forum and resides in Corning. He has 51 years of farming experience and has advocated locally, nationally and globally for Iowa and U.S. Agriculture as the former President of the American Soybean Association and the Iowa Soybean Association.