WASHINGTON, DC, Dec. 1, 2003-It may
seem hard to believe, but according to the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's 2003 farm income forecast, 94 percent of total farm
household income comes from off-farm sources. Many rural families
work off-farm jobs in addition to farming to make ends meet.
Dan McGuire, chief executive officer of the American Corn Growers
Foundation (ACGF), said that low commodity prices combined with high
production costs are responsible for this. McGuire said that the
farm income forecast is a compelling reason for farmers and ranchers
to support wind energy because it provides a source of income and
fosters economic development in rural communities.
"Wind farming does pay," he said.
McGuire cites a Minnesota project that demonstrates why farmers,
ranchers, and rural communities should get involved with wind energy
as a new source of income. The Kas Brothers' Wind Farm at Pipestone,
completed in 2001, is the first farmer-owned commercial wind farm in
the United States. Developer Dan Juhl installed two NEG Micon
750-kilowatt (kW) turbines with an estimated annual electricity
production of 4.5 million kilowatt-hours (kWh). That wind farm now
yields $30,000-$40,000 annually for the first 10 years of operation
and is expected to yield $110,000-$130,000 annually thereafter,
depending on the level of electricity production.
McGuire said that this project is an excellent example of
community-based economic development. Local contractors Olsen
Electric and K-Wind participated. Xcel Energy contracted to purchase
the electricity. Local banks provided the financing. The wind
turbine, the power contract, the maintenance agreement, and
insurance allow the banks to make the loans with little risk. Local
ownership also keeps the electricity revenue circulating in the
community. This wind farm model is so successful that Juhl has
several new projects in the works this year.
Although Minnesota has emerged as a leader in implementing wind
energy in rural communities, Texas is also setting an example for
states to follow. After the Texas legislature passed a renewable
energy requirement, utilities and wind companies invested $1 billion
in 2001 to build 912 megawatts (MW) of new wind power projects. The
results? According to a report published by the SEED Coalition and
Public Citizen's Texas office, "The completed plants created 2,500
quality jobs with a payroll of $75 million, will deliver $13.3
million in tax revenue for schools and counties and pay landowners
$2.5 million in royalty income in 2002 alone. The multiplier effect
of this new investment activity will stimulate another 2,900
indirect jobs in Texas. Wind power is bringing relief to rural Texas
and creating jobs statewide."
Wind power also is providing "a nice kick" to the local economy of
Milton-Freewater, Oregon, according to Mayor Lewis Keys. The new
41-MW Combine Hills Turbine Ranch wind farm in his district will
provide wind power for area residents, who also will benefit from
the infusion of construction dollars.
"Having been a farmer of wheat, barley, and peas for 35 years, it
was hard to imagine the surrounding land being used for anything
other than farming, but now I can see the diversity of its uses,"
Leroy Ratzlaff, a third-generation landowner and farmer in Hyde
County, South Dakota, agrees. Ratzlaff and his family used a
homemade wind generator in the 1930s before rural electrification
reached their farm. In 2003, he leased his land to a wind developer
that installed seven wind turbines, providing a much-needed economic
"It's not as risky as farming," Ratzlaff said.
SIDEBAR: U.S. CORN GROWERS SUPPORT WIND ENERGYIn April of 2003, the
American Corn Growers Foundation commissioned a nationwide, random,
and scientific survey of 500+ corn farmers in the 14 states
representing nearly 90 percent of the nation's corn production. The
poll found that 93.3 percent of the nation's corn producers support
wind energy; 88.8 percent want farmers, industry, and public
institutions to promote wind power as an alternative energy source;
and 87.5 percent want utility companies to accept electricity from
wind turbines in their power mix.
Because much of the nation's wind energy potential is found in rural
areas, wind energy offers an unprecedented opportunity for rural
economic development. Wind energy can offer:
Benefits to Rural Landowners
Rural landowners who lease their land to wind developers typically
receive about 2 percent to 4 percent of the gross annual turbine
revenue ($2,000 to $4,000 for each turbine), which can help
compensate for a downturn in commodity prices. The Union of
Concerned Scientists estimates that typical farmers or ranchers with
good wind resources could increase the economic yield of their land
by 30 percent to 100 percent. Wind turbines have a small footprint
and do not occupy much land, so farming and ranching operations can
"It's almost like renting out my farm and still having it," Ratzlaff
said. "And the cows don't seem to mind a bit."
Increased Local Tax Base
Wind power projects bring new tax revenue to rural communities.
Payments generally range from 1 percent to 3 percent of the
project's value. At 1 percent, property tax payments would provide
approximately $10,000 per MW for rural communities each year. These
revenues can be used to build new schools, roads, bridges, and other
Here are some examples of states that are increasing their tax
revenue because of wind energy projects: Pecos County, Texas, added
$4.6 million to its property tax revenue in 2002 alone. In Iowa, 250
MW of wind development provide $2 million per year in property tax
revenues for local communities. A 20-MW wind farm in Kewaunee
County, Wisconsin, will result in annual property tax payments of
$200,000 to the county, or 50 percent of its annual budget. And the
development in Hyde County, South Dakota, will result in $250,000
for the county.
Wind power projects create new jobs in rural communities in
manufacturing, transportation, and construction of projects. Roads
must be built. Towers must be erected. Once the projects are
complete, jobs are created in the operation and maintenance of the
projects. The wind power plant in Lake Benton, Minnesota, is now the
second largest employer in town (after the school district). In
Iowa, construction provided 200 six-month construction jobs and 40
permanent maintenance and operations jobs at an average wage of $16
The U.S. wind industry currently contributes to the economies of 46
states. And according to a study by the New York State Energy
Research and Development Authority, wind energy produces 27 percent
more jobs per kilowatt-hour than coal plants and 66 percent more
jobs than natural gas plants.
Benefits to the Communities
Not only do rural communities benefit directly from wind power
projects, as demonstrated above, but they also benefit indirectly.
When new jobs and additional farming income are created, the
paychecks are spent in local stores and restaurants, boosting the
local economy and creating additional jobs.
Of course, wind energy offers many benefits beyond rural economic
development. Wind energy is "homegrown" energy that can extend
non-renewable energy sources, helping to secure our energy future,
reduce energy costs, and reduce our dependence on foreign energy.
Wind power produces no air or water emissions, which improves the
health of our environment.
But perhaps the greatest benefit of all is the hope that wind energy
projects can offer to rural Americans who wish to remain on their
family farms and make a living from them.
"We never dreamed this would happen," Ratzlaff said about the
turbines on his land. "It's going to make for a merry Christmas!"
The American Agricultural Wind Coalition prepared this article with
information provided by the Department of Energy's Wind Powering
America Program. For more information, please visit
SIDEBAR: Learn More about Wind and Economic Development in Your
This organization partners with the Institute for
Agriculture and Trade Policy to promote wind education and outreach.
The organization's Web site at
features a section called Wind Farmers Network of America.
If you don't have Internet access, write to
2105 First Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55404
or call (800) 946-3640.
American Wind Energy Association
AWEA offers a fact sheet entitled "Wind Energy for Your Farm or
It is available online at
You can also access a list of developers at
Write to The American Wind Energy Association at
122 C Street NW, Suite 380,
Washington, DC 20001
or call (202) 383-2500.
American Corn Growers Foundation
Learn more about the foundation's Wealth from the Wind
program at http://www.acgf.org.
Write to the foundation at P.O. Box 18157, Washington, DC 20036; or
call (202) 835-0330.
Wind Energy Resource Atlas
To find out whether you have a strong wind resource in your