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
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.