During my tour through Colorado wind power last week, I often heard how wind helps keep the fabric of rural communities intact, allowing them to thrive.
Land lease payments make it possible for family famers and ranchers to keep their businesses running, expanded tax revenue provides resources to buy new emergency services equipment, and wind farms bring well-paying jobs to the community, meaning young people don’t have to leave home to find a good career.
Millions in financial resources for rural communities
New data released today allows us to quantify these sorts of anecdotes: landowners with wind turbines on their property now receive a total of $222 million in lease payments every year. Overall, landowners in six states currently receive over $10 million each year in lease payments, and 26 states have landowners that receive over $1 million.
This revenue acts as a drought resistant cash crop for family farmers and ranchers, providing a stable source of income they can count on when productivity declines because of drought or other causes. It also helps protect them from commodity price fluctuations, a frequent source of frustration in the agricultural world.
Real world impacts
In many cases, lease payments from turbines are the difference between keeping a farm and selling off the land.
Jason Wilson of Calhan, CO, told me, “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.”
The Wilson farm sits on the plains at the base of Pike’s Peak. It’s a beautiful, serene place started by Jason’s great-grandfather in the 1940’s. Jason will be taking over the operation in the coming years, and his family explained they had no doubt this transition is only possible because of the lease payments they receive in exchange for hosting wind turbines.
Tax revenue helps communities thrive
Land lease payments aren’t the only source of revenue from wind farms; they also help expand the tax base. In many states, wind increases property tax funds by millions of dollars. For example, in Colorado increased property tax revenue from wind could near $19 million a year by 2030.
When our team visited a wind farm in the northeastern part of the state, in a town called Peetz, we heard that the local fire department had been using hand-me-down trucks in poor condition from other counties. Some locals joked that the old fire trucks couldn’t make it up a hill. However, after a wind farm was built, the resulting tax base expansion enabled the town to purchase brand new trucks.
Since around 70 percent of American wind farms are located in rural communities where median household incomes are lower than overall U.S. median incomes, lease payments and added tax revenue are doubly important. Overall, wind farm investment in such areas has exceeded $101 billion.
Wind farms mean local jobs
A final component in this economic picture concerns the jobs wind farms bring to a community.
In many rural areas, jobs are limited to agricultural professions. Young people that may want to pursue a different livelihood are often forced to move away because of a lack of options, even if they don’t want to leave their families and hometowns.
However, wind farms bring other opportunities for employment. Wind turbine technician is the fastest growing occupation in the country and presents another employment avenue for people who enjoy rural lifestyles.
Our team met with a wind farm operations and maintenance crew in Peetz, CO, and many of its members fell exactly into this category. Working as a wind turbine technician provided them with well-paying jobs while also allowing them to stay in the town they grew up in and loved, in close proximity to their extended families. The crew told us this option simply wasn’t available before the wind farm was built.
There are a multitude of different ways wind power brings resources and opportunities to local communities. Even better, the dollar amounts and job numbers will only increase as we continue to grow this American energy source, which will help rural towns thrive along the way.