Farming Renewable Energy – Five Reasons Farmers Love Wind & Solar

There are many benefits to installing more renewable energy. Renewable energy costs are falling dramatically, it provides another reliable source of homegrown energy, has created jobs and invested billions across rural America, and is driving more competition in the energy markets.

Renewable energy projects like solar and wind are installed primarily in rural America. Farmers and ranchers have a long relationship making a living from their land, working alongside it to both maximize their yields and ensure its quality is preserved for future generations. As wind and solar have become a new cash crop for farmers, it’s natural for farmers have a lot of questions about how renewable energy can benefit their farming operation.

Here are 5 ways renewable energy projects can benefit farmers:

  1. Stable Income
    Farmers have long harvested crops on their farmland. Now farmers who participate in wind or solar projects are compensated for leasing their land to a renewable energy company. These fixed-term leases provide a stable, guaranteed income for farmers year-after-year – in wet and dry years, through unexpected frosts or hailstorm damages, through times of low commodity prices or lower yields.
     
    In 2015, farmers and ranchers received over $222 million in land lease payments. This added revenue has become a foundation that the farmer can use to grow his farming operation. It can diversify income, provide cash flow in years of low corn prices (like the past 5 years), and can help finance new machinery,sheds, or other investments on the farm site. 

    “The wind towers have really been a boon for this area. It’s given us another $20,000 income a year, and I just think they’re fantastic. I wish the whole farm was covered with them,” said Tim Hemphill, a farmer in Milford, Iowa.

     
  2. Access Roads Built to Benefit Your Farm
    An access road is built to the base of the wind turbine for construction and maintenance of the turbine. Wind companies have years of experience working alongside farmers to try to construct the new road in a way that benefits the farmer and the wind company. These roads can often be built perpendicular to township roads, which keeps planting alongside it simple even for farmers who don’t use autosteer. Farmers are free to use the access road to park grain trucks, tractors, combines and other equipment. 

     
  3. Solar Farms Bring Pollinators, Which Boost Yields
    When solar farms are being constructed, many companies have begun to plant native grasses and wildflowers beneath the panels to attract pollinators. This means that in addition to a land-lease payment for the solar field, farmers also benefit from an abundance of pollinators right next to their crops. 

    A lab at Iowa State University (ISU) is finding that even a self-pollinating crop like soybeans can find big yield benefits from bees. Honey bee-pollinated soybeans have found yield increases of 10-40 percent compared to self-pollinated beans, and ISU expects that native bees may have an even larger effect. Projects like these are good for a farmer’s income and good for the future of their land, preserving the health of the farmland and boosting yields.

     
  4. Improving Roads & Bridges
    Wind farms provide new tax revenue for the county and township, which is often used to improve roads, bridges and reduce taxes for the community. Not only does this help the whole community, but it also helps farmers ensure they can continue operating heavy machinery on roads and bridges around their farm.

    The Franklin County Board in Iowa recently voted to lower property taxes after it paid off a bond used to fund $18 million in road and bridge improvements thanks to wind energy payments. Michael Nolte, a farmer on the Franklin County Board, stated, “[Wind] is our financial future. It’s helping us survive and maintain services, whereas other counties have had to make cuts.” The counties surrounding Franklin County had recently been closing bridges to heavy farm machinery after lacking the money to fix the bridges.

     
  5. Farmland Preservation
    Wind energy has been called the “new corn” for struggling farmers, and now solar fields are increasingly allowing farmers to export a new product from their land in a long-term, sustainable way. 

    In fact, lease payments from wind and solar can mean the difference between keeping a farm in the family or selling off the land or underinvesting in the operation during tough years. It allows farmers to continue their farming operation uninterrupted with the added benefit of dependable revenue.

     

Jason Wilson, a farmer in Calhan, CO, said, “The wind farm allowed us to be able to keep our family farm. We had come to a point where it no longer made financial sense to keep the property even with its vast sentimental value. The wind farm balanced the financial viability with the sentimental value, allowing the family farm to be passed on to the next generation.”

Listen to Gary Baldosser, a fourth-generation farmer who raises corn, soybeans, and wheat. Gary testified before an Ohio panel to help state lawmakers understand how wind energy helps move farmers forward. Gary’s town had a wind farm proposal but it could not be built because of Ohio’s setback requirements. Listen to what a wind farm would mean for his family and the legacy he will leave his children:

By providing a stable income for farmers, building new access roads, helping fund local road and bridge improvements, and boosting yields and pollinators, it’s no wonder farmers and ranchers have turned to renewable energy. This new, dependable crop allows farmers to continue harvesting their land uninterrupted. As David Day, a rancher in North Dakota, puts it: “Everybody is getting excited about it now, because it isn’t just a paycheck. For older people, now I have a retirement deal that I can look at, that I can go travel …. For the more middle-aged ranchers… it’s a security net for us to look at …[to] do the upgrades that we need on the ranch now and still secure our future for our children.”

4 Ways You Can Help Renewable Energy as a Citizen

There are plenty of reasons that public support for renewable energy has been climbing. Many people see building wind and solar energy as a way to diversify America’s energy sources to be more homegrown, low-cost and renewable. Some support renewable energy because it does not release carbon emissions, a boon compared to other sources of making electricity. Consumers across the Midwest are benefitting from renewable energy’s low price, too. Competition in the energy market is working to drive prices down and making utility bills more affordable.

No matter your reasons for embracing renewable energy, you may wonder how you as a citizen can help further your support for growing renewable energy. Not everyone has the space to erect a wind turbine or install a solar panel on their roof, but there are plenty of other ways to support this clean, reliable source of electricity.  Here’s what you can do:

1.       Ask your electric utility about their renewable energy programs. Many electric utilities, the company you pay for your electricity each month, now offer programs you can enroll in and decide how much renewable energy powers your home or business.

For example, Xcel Energy offers two renewable energy programs: Windsource, which allows you to power your home from wind power, and Renewable*Connect, which powers your home with a blend of solar and wind energy. Xcel Energy customers can elect how much renewable energy they want to power their home in flexible terms. Because Xcel Energy builds its wind and solar farms in the Midwest, customers are supporting local renewable projects like the North Star Solar project in Chisago County and wind farms like Blazing Star I and II in southwestern Minnesota.

If your electric utility does not have a renewable energy program to join, ask them if they are considering creating one. Many electricity customers across the nation are demanding access to renewable energy these days, especially Fortune 500 companies like Apple, Facebook and Google. Electric utilities serve your wants and needs as a customer; tell them you support increased renewables like wind and solar to power your home.
 

2.       Write to your elected officials and ask them to support renewable energy policies. While writing to your U.S. Senator or Representative, your State Senator or Representative, or your local elected officials, remember that your voice matters! Tell them your personal story about why you support growing renewable energy, why they should support policies that help the renewable industry grow and ask what actions they are taking to support renewable energy.

Be sure to check out WOW’s fact sheets on wind energy to include facts in your letter, such as  how many jobs, tax dollars, and landowner-lease payments your community is benefitting from. Spend time on our FAQ and read our blog posts that describe the benefits of wind energy to become better informed about how you and your community can benefit from renewable energy. 

You may be surprised by how accessible your state and local officials are. Your voice matters to your representatives, and your support for renewable energy can help enact real, meaningful change.
 

3.       Voice your support for local clean energy projects. If you live in the rural Midwest, there may be a wind or solar project nearby seeking approval for construction. It’s not often that multi-million dollar projects come to small rural communities, and the new jobs, tax revenue, landowner lease payments, and new business it bring to town can rejuvenate the local economy.

Write your local elected officials like your County Commissioner, City Council or Township Board and explain why you think renewable energy is a good thing for your community. Local elected officials will host hearings to gather public opinion of the renewable energy project. Brush up on the benefits wind energy brings to rural communities, bring your friends to the hearing and speak in support of the project. Even if you aren’t a public speaker, your supportive presence at the local meeting is still helpful!

If there is a local renewable energy project in your area, the developer or a group of citizens may have an open Facebook group to discuss how renewable energy is benefitting the community and how you can get involved to grow the effort. If the developer has a local office, stop in, say hello and ask how you can get more involved! Completed wind projects in the Midwest can be found on our Project Map webpage – see if there is one near you and visit their local office today.
 

4.       Sign up for the GoToWOW Newsletter and follow us on Facebook. Our newsletter provides occasional news about renewable energy in the Midwest, different ways you can get involved in advocating for renewables and more! Sign up here to stay updated about how you can support renewable energy today.
 

Smart choice: Wind energy puts farmland to work in a new way

Red barns, grazing cattle, and the proverbial ‘amber waves of grain’ personify everything good and wholesome about life in rural America.  Yet, across the country, many small towns are struggling.  Young people are leaving in search of good, family-supporting jobs. Schools and churches are closing or consolidating. Roads are falling into disrepair. Businesses are shuttered and left vacant, staple businesses like grocery stores struggle to survive, and even rural hospitals are closing at the rate of nearly one every month nationwide according to a recent report.  But, the outlook doesn’t have to be so bleak.

Rural communities have much to gain from welcoming a wind project into their community.  Wind development projects inject millions of dollars into the local economy.  This happens in a few ways.  First, developers strive to buy local goods and services whenever possible.  They use local restaurants, grocery stores, hotels, hardware stores, service stations, building and construction supply companies, print shops, and other services as much as possible. This gives a real boost to local businesses.  After construction, good-paying permanent jobs remain for service technicians and administrative personnel.

Second, wind energy has become a new “cash crop” for many farmers and ranchers. U.S. wind farms now pay an estimated $245 million a year to farming families.  At the end of 2015, AWEA reported that 70 percent of that revenue goes to landowners who live in counties with below average incomes, providing a welcome source of new income.  In Minnesota, land lease payments range from $5 - $10 million per year. This kind of income ripples through the local economy, as a 2014 study by Dr. Sarah Mills from the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan points out.  Her research reveals that landowners with wind turbines on their property invest twice as much money into their farms for things like home improvements, outbuildings, and equipment, than landowners who lived in townships without windfarms. They also purchase more farmland and plan for their farm to continue in the future. 

Third, wind farms contribute to the tax base.  In this case, everyone benefits from the long-lasting new sources of property tax revenues that developers pay.  In Minnesota, more than $10 million was paid to 23 counties that host wind farms in 2016. Those funds are used by local communities for a variety of needs including schools, road and bridge improvements, and some counties use the revenue to keep a lid on property taxes.  In Jackson County, Minnesota, for example, wind revenue is used for repairing roads and building public infrastructure, such as a new $14 million public works facility, which was paid for without asking residents to chip in.  In addition, the wind farm revenue prevented a 14.5% increase in property taxes.  Elsewhere,  in Van Wert, Ohio for example, tax payments from a local wind farm has provided laptops or tablets for every student in their district; and the town of Sheldon (population 2,500) in rural New York hasn’t paid local taxes for 8 years, all thanks to the local wind farm.

Farming is a business.  Farmers expect their land to produce a product they can sell, and in doing so, they can support their families.  Wind farms can help the land perform double-duty – providing drought-resistant income for farmers and a source of jobs and new revenue for the entire community.  That makes wind energy a smart choice for rural Minnesota.   

Learn how one Minnesota town benefits from wind energy, here

 

Wind energy is a jobs and economic engine

There’s a lot of talk about jobs these days. President Donald Trump speaks often, and passionately, about bringing jobs (especially manufacturing jobs) back to America. Wind energy is and will continue to be an important driver of the growth in American manufacturing and other family-supporting jobs across this nation. And, according to a new Navigant study, more jobs are on the way.

The wind industry is an economic engine. In 2016, wind power installations represented more than $14 billion in new investment. That’s greater than the annual revenue of the National Football League. Wind power currently generates 5.5 percent of the nation’s electricity with 82,183 megawatts of installed capacity generating clean, low-cost energy. It is now the largest source of renewable electric capacity in the U.S., eclipsing hydropower, and its growth spurt is expected to continue. The new report by Navigant finds that wind could grow by 8-10 gigawatts per year through 2020, resulting in 35 GW of new U.S. wind installations by 2020. This means more jobs and economic development will follow.

The wind industry currently supports over 100,000 jobs across all 50 states, and wind technician is the fastest-growing job in the nation. Domestic manufacturing of turbine components is growing strong. Over 500 U.S. factories build wind-related parts across 43 states. They currently employ more than 25,000 workers, and Navigant forecasts that number will grow to 33,000 by 2020.

Navigant also estimates that jobs in manufacturing, operations and maintenance, construction, combined with induced jobs resulting from spending by workers involved in the industry at restaurants, hotels, and mechanics, among others, will grow to support 248,000 American jobs by 2020. The job opportunities span the nation and are even significant in areas like the Southeast where there is little or no wind development. With over 60 wind-related factories Ohio ranks first in the nation for manufacturing, followed by Texas (40), Illinois (35), and North Carolina (27). Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin round out the top slots with 26 plants each.  

Despite the manufacturing stronghold in the rust belt, the Southeast also is a manufacturing hub with more than 100 wind component factories in the area. According to the report, North Carolina, for example, is projected to see 4,300 wind jobs by 2020. The report also projects the Southeast could see a total of 22,800 wind jobs in the same year. 

The wind industry is investing in rural America in nearly unmatched ways, giving many struggling communities a vital boost to the local economy. About 71 percent of wind capacity is located in low-income counties, according to Navigant. This means that the tax revenue, land lease payments, and jobs are flowing to the very places that need it most.  

Furthermore, the growth of new wind projects is expected to generate over $8 billion in taxes over the next four years. This is on top of the tax revenues from existing projects that are already helping many small towns fix roads, build schools and improve emergency services that benefit everyone.

Clearly, the entire country benefits from wind power — whether it’s in the form of jobs, a healthy rural economy, or the clean air and water that result from the growing use of renewable energy.  

The wind energy industry is booming, and that’s a good thing for our economy and for America. With popular support from utilities, businesses, grid operators, and the general public, it’s no surprise that reliable, low-cost wind power is flourishing. Make no mistake, wind works for America.

This article originally appeared in Morning Consult.

Wind energy is proud to be American

I was a kid in 1976 when America was celebrating its bicentennial. It was a really big deal. I remember seeing and hearing signs and symbols of American pride on everything. Red, white and blue was everywhere. I even had red, white and blue plaid bell-bottom pants! Today, America’s growing wind energy sector is becoming a source of that kind of national pride, and it should be.

The inaugural American Wind Week, happening now, is a great start. The wind industry that I’m so proud to be part of has deep roots in many of the American values I believe in. Wind creates great jobs for hard-working Americans and taps into the strengths of our veterans. It builds lots of wind turbine parts right here in the U.S. Wind invests in rural communities — many of which are among the poorest in the country yet provide food for the entire world. It strengthens national security and creates clean air and water for everyone.

In short, wind energy is an American success story.

More than 100,000 people have well-paying wind-related jobs across this great nation, and that number is expected to grow by another 50,000 jobs by 2020. Jobs in the wind industry grew nine times faster than the overall economy last year, and wind turbine technician is now America’s fastest growing occupation according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Wind power also employs America’s veterans at a 50 percent higher rate than the national average. Now, that’s something to be proud of, isn’t it?

President Donald Trump speaks often about job creation, and particularly manufacturing jobs, as important in the effort to advance the country’s economy. Wind delivers on this metric, too. There are more than 500 factories spread across 43 states supplying the steel, electronics and other equipment needed to build and operate today’s turbines. Considering there are 8,000 component parts that are used in modern turbines, that’s a lot of work for our fellow Americans. The industry recognizes that buying local is a good business model because it helps lower costs.  

And it’s working. As the use of domestically produced materials increased, and innovation in wind turbine technological improved, the cost of wind energy has dropped by 66 percent over the past seven years.

On the political spectrum, wind is red, white and blue, too. Support for wind energy is bipartisan and up sharply, according to several recent polls. In fact, 91 percent of likely voters, including 81 percent of conservatives, favored “expanding wind power” according to an April 2016 Lazard poll. The American Wind Energy Association reports that 86 percent of installed wind capacity, and all of the top 10 congressional districts for wind, are represented in Congress by Republicans. And, more than 74 percent of U.S. congressional districts have operational wind energy projects or active wind-related manufacturing facilities, including 77 percent of Republican districts and 69 percent of Democratic districts. 

The U.S. wind industry exemplifies the American dream. It started off small but has grown rapidly in recent years. The U.S. now has enough installed wind capacity to power 25 million American homes. And we are doing this while building stronger rural communities, where over 99 percent all utility-scale wind capacity is located. The wind industry pays a quarter billion dollars a year in lease payments to farmers and ranchers, and local taxes to repave roads, pay teacher salaries, even build new schools.

Wind power is playing a growing role in American lives and contributing to an efficient, prosperous economy. U.S. wind projects built over the last decade represent over $143 billion of investment in some of the best infrastructure America has ever built. In 2016 alone, the U.S. wind industry invested more than the annual revenue of the National Football League.

Energy plays an extremely important role in our national security. The more we can diversify our energy mix, employ our own citizens, and keep our great country clean, the better off we will be. Wind energy is at the heart of what it takes to keep American strong and prosperous. I’m proud to support the red, white, and blue. And to me, that includes American wind energy.  

MLive: KVCC wind turbine program still an industry leader after 8 years

KALAMAZOO, MI -- Despite a push by President Trump to bring back the coal mining industry, wind energy is still a priority at Kalamazoo Valley Community College.

The pioneering wind turbine technician training program has seen steady interest and enrollment since its first class in 2009. A total of 190 students have graduated from the program, getting jobs in locations throughout the United States. 

A leader in wind turbine operations and maintenance technician training, which resides at Groves Center in Texas Township, grants certificates to 12 students every six months, said Tom Sutton, director of the KVCC Wind Energy and Technical Training Services.

The program, which was the first BZEE accredited program in the U.S,. stands today as the only program in the country where students can become internationally certified, Sutton said.

BZEE is an acronym for a German term of standards that tells schools the specific sets of skills technicians must know to work in the field. Other programs in the U.S. can teach wind turbine technician skills, but do not offer the BZEE accreditation.

The KVCC program also holds the American Wind Energy Association Seal of Approval, which means its curriculum meets the AWEA's core skill-set criteria.

"Quite frankly I think this is the program that prepares students the best for the highest paid, entry level positions in wind, and it's industry validated," Sutton said. "The industry tells us what to train and they validate our training by hiring our graduates."

The program has a 96 percent job placement rate for graduates, KVCC says.

High-demand jobs

In the late 2000s, when the push for renewable energies was in full swing at the national and state levels, the economy was also experiencing a recession that resulted in many skilled trades people being out of work. The wind turbine technician programs were able to retrain these people, who had electrical and mechanical skills, for wind, Sutton said.

More than 200 schools throughout the U.S. were given grant money to start technician training programs, but most of the programs were "textbooks and chalkboards," Sutton said.

After being plagued with falling enrollment and low job placement, many programs closed, leaving only about a dozen programs in the country, he said.

In more recent years, unemployment has dropped and there is a gap in the skilled trades, he said.

"We've done an incredible job of making everyone believe that when they leave high school, they have to get a four-year college degree," Sutton said.

Sutton said among the skilled trades, the position of wind turbine technician has remained a top paying job. The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics listed it as No. 1 for job growth, stating that between 2014 and 2024, the number of jobs is expected to grow 108 percent.

The job of a wind turbine technician is in high demand, said Evan Vaughan, media relations officer for the AWEA. 

"That really speaks to how well wind is working for the U.S.," Vaughan said.

The technicians who do the maintenance on the turbines "play a vital function," in the success of wind energy in the U.S., Vaughan said.  

Graduates can get entry level positions where they work between 40 and 60 hours a week with the average salary being between $55,000 and $65,000.

"It's an opportunity to have not just a job, but a well-paying career," Vaughan said. 

Job possibilities exist throughout the world, said Delia Baker, KVCC's program coordinator for technical services.

"There's a whole globe of opportunity out there," Baker said.

Ambassadors of technology

Meanwhile, Trump has put a focus on fossil fuels, saying repeatedly that he will bring back coal-mining jobs.

Trump's push is a sharp contrast from former Democratic Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who made wind energy a high priority, stating clean energy as one of her key foundation points and visiting Michigan turbine factories. Current Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, has not championed wind energy to the same extent as Granholm. 

Renewables such as wind energy face criticism both from some politicians and people living in rural areas where the wind turbines are erected. Some people have complained of health concerns, headaches and noise from the wind turbines when they are placed too close to homes.

Sutton said the school is aware of their critics and that technicians are trained to speak with the public, hoping to educate them on what they are doing in the field.

"Certainly, the students have to be an ambassador of the technology," Sutton said. "Part of what we teach our trainees is the ability to recognize when they can provide information to help educate people that don't know and when to just walk away from an argument."

There is a lot of "misinformation" surrounding wind energy and that people tend to have strong opinions on the topic, he said.

"We have run into people in the field who quite literally are mad because it's windy out and we won't shut those fans off. How do you deal with that?" Sutton said. "We have also run into people that have really good questions and just don't know. We can act as a subject matter expert and talk to them and educate them and help their understanding."

Educating people who live in towns surrounding wind turbines is important because the success of the industry relies on the support of the people, Vaughan said. 

"Communities are the backbone of the wind industry," Vaughan said. "We couldn't grow if we didn't have the support of the communities." 

Sutton attends the American Wind Energy Association's Wind Power on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. to advocate for the industry. Sutton recently took four of his students to participate in the event and work with legislators on wind energy's top policy initiatives, according to a KVCC Faculty Spotlight article.

Despite some criticism, the momentum of wind energy is past the point of return, Sutton said. Corporations such as General Motors, Google and Amazon participate in Power Purchase Agreements, which are contracts that guarantee an exchange of electricity from the wind farms for a fixed cost of energy for 20 years, he said.

"The price of coal, the price of other fossil fuels fluctuates daily, but once I lock in a fixed price of energy for 20 years -- talk about a nice business plan. There's no uncertainty. So, I don't think the momentum can stop now," Sutton said.

Competitive program

The KVCC program accepts only 24 students every year, among the 40 to 50 applications received. The program is not open enrollment, but instead accepts students after an interview process, math exam and climbing test, Sutton said.

The school looks for students who have certain aptitude for mechanical and electrical operations. Applicants must also be physically fit, and have no fear of heights, he said.

Most of the students come from outside of Michigan. The program also garners interest from many international students.

Since its opening, the school has accepted trainees every year for their "job ready on Day 1" based program. The hands-on class uses a competency based curriculum, meaning students must become 100 percent competent on each skill set before moving forward, that requires them to meet milestones during the 24-week class.

"We live it, eat it, breath it exactly the way they're going to have to do it in the field," Sutton said.

The first 22 days of the program are safety training days where students learn how to protect their bodies during the physical work as well as height safety training.

"We are working around 34,500 volts of electricity, 340 feet in the air in a confined space," Sutton said. "Any one single thing goes wrong, and people get hurt or die in this industry."

"Not only do they learn the individual competencies or skills like hydraulic bolt torqueing or tensioning for example, they learn that here in a very protective, safe environment," Sutton added. "Then we take them into the field, and we take them 340 feet up in the air in a wind turbine where they actually have to do that job with that hydraulic tool."

This article originally appeared on MLive.

6 ways rural communities can win with wind

When a wind project developer comes to town, it’s natural for rural communities to have a lot of questions about how a wind project might affect their community and its individuals. A wind project can be a big change, but it can also offer a lot of benefits to the landowners, townships, schools, towns, business, and counties that host them. Wind developers build 99 percent of their projects in rural communities and are eager to ensure residents receive the full benefits a wind farm can bring, including:

 

1. Increased tax revenue and/or lower taxes for individuals

Wind projects are hundred million dollar businesses that operate within the county – and that means they contribute a lot of tax revenue to the county and townships they are located in. These new tax revenues provide relief for small, rural towns, many of which have been financially strapped in recent times.

For example, wind projects paid Mower County $2.37 million in 2016. “Wind … has been a good thing for Mower County,” said Commission Board Chairman Tim Gabrielson. “Our entire community benefits from the production tax revenue received by our County. This last year, the county board committed $400,000 of the county portion of revenue from the wind energy production tax toward improving roads and bridges. We’ve used the remainder as a tax relief for citizens. Having this new revenue source from wind power reduces the amount of tax dollars that would be needed to be raised from taxpayers to pay for our county operations.”

 

2. Landowner lease payments

wwm_landowners_lease_payments.jpg

The land that is used by a wind project is leased from consenting landowners, who in turn receive a stable, agreed-to income year after year for their participation. Oftentimes these landowners are farmers, who have come to embrace wind energy as their new cash crop. Farmers have long made an honest living by producing goods from their land, and harvesting the wind that blows above their crops is no different.

Wind developers work alongside farmers to make sure turbines are located in preferential spots and that access roads to the turbines are constructed in a way that the farmer can benefit from. In turn, the farmer also receives a stable income from the developer. Farmers always face difficulty in planning the future of their farm operation while commodity prices are always changing. A stable paycheck from a wind company can be just the thing they need to get help during bad years and ensure they will have income to invest in a new shed or machinery for their farm.

 

3. Economic development in the local economy

During the actual construction of wind projects, many workers use a plethora of local business. Employees stay in local hotels, eat at nearby restaurants, buy groceries at the local store, maintain their fleet at the local service station, open corporate accounts at the local hardware store, and use other businesses in the local economy. Once the project is finished, the wind company often opens an office downtown for the wind turbine technicians and site managers when they’re not in the field. The new workers often buy houses, shop at the local grocery store, buy their car at the local dealership, enroll their children at school, volunteer in local community clubs, and become a part of the community.

 

4. Job creation

During construction, hundreds of construction workers are needed.  This influx of workers is good news for local hotels, gas stations and restaurants.  Local building and construction supply companies such as heavy equipment rental and cement companies also benefit from this development. When the project is complete, the wind project often become a new town employer, creating full-time jobs for wind technicians, site managers, and office staff; as well as providing opportunities for existing service providers, like landscapers and snow plow operators. The wind industry now employs over 100,000 Americans, and wind turbine technician is the fastest growing job in America.

 

5. Funding community projects

The companies that own wind projects know that community support is vital to opening a successful wind farm, and they want to be good corporate citizens. Most wind companies donate directly to local charities, youth clubs, restoration efforts, and community projects.

For example, one Minnesota-based developer creates community fund for every wind farm that it builds. These are 501(c)(3) organizations that guarantee annual payments to the local community for a 20 year period. Local community members become the fund’s board of directors and decide which local projects to invest in, which may include creating educational scholarships for residents, grants for local businesses, or helping the local fire department purchase a new fire truck.

 

6. Support local schools

Local communities that host wind turbine projects often use the new tax revenue and community funds to invest in their school district. Funding for public schools come from the local tax base, and wind projects provide more funding for schools to use as they see fit. Schools often invest in better technology, new academic programs for students, and by offering higher wages for teachers so that they can attract quality people to provide a better education their students.

For example, one wind project in Illinois adds $400,000 to the school district every year for 20 years. This has allowed the school to purchase a computer for every student K-12, and also opened a pre-engineering program and a biomedical program for high school students.

 

While wind projects can be a big change for small towns, they offer benefits for everyone – not just the participating landowners. By offering better education, increased economic development, new sources of revenue, and more – they truly are a good investment for rural communities to become more self-reliant and resilient for a better future.

MSU Extension Releases New Sample Zoning for Wind Energy

Michigan State University Extension has released an updated sample zoning for wind energy systems that is avaialble for local governments to use with its zoning and planning programs. This document has undergone major revisions and updates since March 2017 (see AWEA blog post on April 24, 2017). The document represents the first update to sample zoning that was created in 2008. It includes additional research and takes into account the experiences of a larger number of local governments.

The new MSU Extension sample wind zoning document can be accessed here.

Planner’s flyer gets misinterpreted as a university recommendation; would thwart new wind farms

Recently Michigan State University’s (MSU) Extension in Manistee, Mich., published a pamphlet proposing an updated “sample zoning ordinance” for wind energy systems. The proposals were developed without input from the wind energy industry, or the larger group of stakeholders that worked on the state’s sample zoning ordinance in 2008.

According to the principal author of the pamphlet, Kurt Schindler, his writings were intended as a discussion “starting point;” the points he raised should not be interpreted as recommendations; and in any case, are not standards endorsed by Michigan State University.

In fact, the pamphlet has now been removed from the MSU Extension’s website and is not available through MSU.

Despite the lack of review and the pamphlet’s removal, it is still being used by some as an example of supposedly necessary planning standards. The simple fact that MSU is no longer publicizing the pamphlet should be enough to demonstrate that its content requires a cautious eye.

From the standpoint of wind energy developers, the pamphlet contains provisions that – if taken at face value – would be wholly unworkable for businesses, and are not necessary to protect public health or safety. We believe that some of these provisions, if ever implemented, could needlessly deprive rural communities of the jobs and economic activity that come with wind farms. Yet they are being presented by some lawmakers and local planners as MSU-sponsored guidelines or recommendations for wind energy zoning.

That is simply not the case.

In a phone conversation on April 14, 2017, the principal author, Kurt Schindler, described the work as a flyer and made it clear that the sample ordinance it contains was intended for discussion, stating: “Nobody should characterize the flyer as ‘making recommendations.’ These are meant as a discussion point and are not standards endorsed by MSU.”

Here’s the reality: Hundreds of thousands of people live and work near wind farms around the world without issue. Over 20 peer-reviewed studies have found no evidence of harm from proximity to wind turbines. Credible research from MIT, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and Canada’s equivalent of the Department of Health and Human Services bears this out.

That’s not to say that the wind industry or planners shouldn’t work closely with the communities that host wind farms, and indeed they do. It does suggest, however, that some of the more drastically restrictive suggestions in the flyer could unnecessarily impede an industry that offers communities welcome economic growth and investment, as well as cleaner air.

Setback to property line

Setback requirements, as the flyer correctly points out, are designed to protect a wind turbine’s neighbors in the extremely rare event of a tower failure, and ice shedding from a blade. The author states that a setback equal to the tower’s height “should be adequate.”  And, in fact, that is about the range of values (combined with other reasonable siting standards) we have seen successfully implemented across the industry, which have proven adequate for protection of the public while also facilitating wind farms.

However, some have suggested that this sample ordinance suggests a 2,500-foot property line setback.  Mr. Schindler does not agree with this characterization.

He describes the concept presented in the pamphlet as a “boundary unit” that would encompass all properties receiving compensation in some form from the wind project. Since today’s wind turbines are typically around 500 feet tall,  attempting to create actual setback limitations based on the boundary unit structure would result in setbacks 4.5 times the distance that the flyer says “should be adequate.”

The boundary unit the pamphlet describes is – importantly – not a health or safety related setback. It is based on the “compensation unit” concept, related to landowners receiving royalty payments, and the “observed distance shadow flicker has an impact” (although the article gives no reference for the nature of the impact or how that was established).

Here are some important points to keep in mind about any setback recommendations:

  • Setbacks should be based on health and safety. A setback equal to or slightly greater than the tower height is sufficient to protect public health and safety from the rare event of a tower failure. Over 52,000 utility-scale wind turbines now operate around the U.S. with tower failures limited to just a couple in any given year, if any at all occur, and there has not been one report of injury to a member of the public.
  • “Compensation unit” is a concept used in Michigan for oil and gas development, whereby landowners within the compensation unit receive some negotiated form of payment. The pamphlet does note, however, that not all local planning attorneys would view this as appropriate, and emphasizes that the structure is based solely on Michigan law, having no application outside the state.
  • Shadow flicker is predictable and can be mitigated, as the author acknowledges. It generally occurs for just a few minutes near sunrise or sunset. Exposure is a function of many factors, including the sun’s angle, distance and direction from the turbine, direction of the wind, time of day, time of year, presence of obstructions, and presence of people and the susceptibility of the any person that is present. Given more typical shadow flicker thresholds (limits applied to residential structures) and the wide range of factors needed to result in impacts, experience has shown that shadow flicker very rarely (if ever) is an issue at property lines.
  • Shadow flicker is almost never regulated at the property line, certainly not to the extent recommended in the flyer. If planners are considering adopting such a setback, they should understand that it would be among the most restrictive setbacks in the country, and would be twice the setback that was legislated in Ohio in 2014. That Ohio setback has all but eliminated new wind farms there, and is now the focus of repeal efforts by those seeking renewed economic development in the state.

Wind energy projects across the country have successfully operated using some combination of a reasonable shadow flicker threshold and/or a complaint resolution process, which would allow for additional mitigation if needed. There is no evidence that setbacks based on this pamphlet’s boundary unit concept would actually be necessary to minimize or avoid what is already a virtually non-existent level of shadow flicker impact at the property line.

As the author told me on the phone, “The sample ordinance does not suggest 2,500-foot setbacks. Anyone using this paper to justify a claim that setbacks should be 2,500 feet as a general matter is inappropriate.”

Setback to occupied buildings

The flyer goes on to suggest a 5,400-foot setback (or 20 times the rotor diameter) from structures designed for human occupancy, or that turbines be turned off when such a structure experiences shadow flicker.

Much like the setbacks for property lines, such ideas if they were ever applied would greatly and unnecessarily restrict turbine placement or operation. They would significantly impede the property rights of landowners who may want to host wind turbines, even though there is no public safety reason to justify it.

Shadow flicker becomes unimportant at distances far shorter than 5,400 feet, and as noted is rare to start with and can be mitigated. Again, a combination of a reasonable shadow flicker threshold and/or a complaint resolution process has proven adequate for wind farms across the county.

Sound levels

The flyer suggests a sound limit of 40 decibels at the property line. Such a blanket standard would be among the most restrictive in the country, and unnecessarily restrict the development of wind farms. Points to keep in mind:

  • The difference between “nearest residence” and “property line” can be hundreds or thousands of feet. A report by the Chief Medical Officer of Health of Ontario, referencing guidelines from the World Health Organization Europe, specifically applies the standard at the nearest residence and indoor noise. The flyer would apply the standard at the property line, giving no explanation for the change. On farms and ranches, where 98 percent of wind farms are built, that can be an enormous.
  • Extensive research has been conducted to study the effects of wind turbine noise on human health. In research by MIT, Health Canada, and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, among others, no evidence has been found that wind turbine noise (even at greater than 40 decibels) causes human health issues.

Model ordinance processes

AWEA and its member companies have been involved in a number of model ordinance exercises across the country. In such exercises, it’s important to rigorously and fairly discuss the issues around adding more wind energy to our nation’s energy mix. Any sample ordinances should come out of multi-stakeholder processes that include third party consultants and experts, community members and industry representatives.

The goal is to evaluate potential impacts and benefits, and other considerations. This pamphlet seems to be based on a input from a limited number of stakeholders and no discussion of the issues, challenges and solutions. It is also important to note that its contents do not change the Michigan Agency for Energy’s existing sample ordinance, and have not been endorsed by other experts in the field.

The concepts related to setbacks and sound are far more restrictive than what has been implemented in communities across the country, and would effectively “zone out” wind farms in most communities if ever adopted.

While no form of land use or energy production is completely free of impacts, wind energy’s impacts are extremely low and quite manageable. We urge planners to consider all the facts related to impacts and benefits before making decisions, and to recognize that the standards suggested by this flyer would be extremely cautious to the point of making future wind energy development all but impossible.

This article was posted with the permission of AWEA.

Wind energy is chock-full of wins

Michigan farmers, business owners, and taxpayers have a lot to gain by embracing wind energy.  It offers a drought-resistant cash crop, requires very little land, creates family-supporting jobs even in rural areas, and injects much-needed revenue sources into rural communities at a time when many are struggling, all while generating low-cost, clean energy.  Everybody wins.

For generations, farmers have harnessed the power of the wind, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that the industry was able to accomplish it on a utility scale. Since then, technological advancements and the growth of domestic manufacturing have driven the cost of wind projects down considerably. The price consumers pay for wind power has dropped 66 percent over six years.

Currently, wind provides over 4 percent of Michigan’s electricity needs, with 1,531 megawatts (MW) of installed capacity, and another 330 MW under construction. The Department of Energy projects that Michigan could produce enough wind energy by 2030 to power the equivalent of 710,000 American homes.

Wind farms ensure farmland is protected over the long term. The average wind farm leaves 98 percent of land undisturbed, so they don’t significantly impact crops or livestock production. Many farmers have found access roads built or improved for wind projects to be convenient during harvest time.  Plus, wind developers make annual land-lease payments to farming families and other rural landowners. In 2014, wind developers paid $4.6 million to Michigan landowners. This extra income goes a long way toward helping families meet their household budgets, send their kids to college, or keep the family farm. It also is reinvested in the community through spending at local businesses, restaurants and other establishments.

Wind developments increase the tax base, which helps keep more money in the pockets of citizens. From 2011 - 2015 the counties with the most wind farms – Gratiot, Huron and Tuscola – saw the largest increase to their tax base. This new source of tax revenue paid by wind developers brings in millions of dollars every year, and is often used to help pay for schools; county and township services like roads, police and fire departments; and programs for seniors and veterans. A recent Bloomberg Businessweek article reported that investments in wind power have actually helped increase assessed land values in some of the poorest areas of rural America.

The economic impact of wind development ripples through local economies. With 26 wind manufacturing facilities, Michigan ranks fourth in the nation in wind manufacturing and enjoys about 2,000 wind energy jobs. Businesses also benefit from wind projects, as developers use local service stations, hardware stores, restaurants and hotels in their day-to-day operations.

Harvesting the wind and investing energy dollars locally is a winning strategy. Wind developments offer the opportunity to capitalize on jobs and economic development while ensuring Michigan’s farm families and rural lifestyle stay economically viable.

This article first appeared in Michigan Country Lines in February 2017.