Life is a lot about relationships, isn’t it? We have personal relationships, which range
from casual acquaintances to BFFs (Best Friends Forever). Similarly, there are business relationships
and partnerships that can make or break a business. Finding those mutually-beneficial
relationships in our personal and professional lives is important and can add
Renewable energy is a great business partner for farmers as
well as rural communities and farmers should be free to make an honest living
from their land however they see fit. After all, farming the wind or sun is a
commodity, just like corn, wheat, or soybeans. Wind turbines typically need an
acre or less land, and farmers are able to plant right up to the turbine. Solar farms require more land, but can be an
ideal way for farmers to generate income on marginal land, on land that is no
longer being farmed, or on land that the farmer wants to have lay fallow for
the period of the solar contract. In
exchange, harvesting the wind or sun provides land lease payments for farmers
and a way to diversify their income stream. This is extremely helpful when crop
prices are low as they are today.
Hosting renewable energy is an ideal fit for rural
communities that are looking for an economic boost, too. Renewable energy projects drive economic
development and create good-paying local jobs in areas that are not otherwise
going to attract larger businesses.
Let’s face it. Big companies that
need lots of employees are not likely to locate in sparsely-populated rural
counties regardless of how much land might be available for development. And,
according to the Minnesota State Demographic Center’s “Greater
Minnesota: Refined & Revisited” report, population is declining in the
rural parts of the state. Between 2010 – 2015, the entirely-rural counties lost
600 people every year, and counties with a mix of towns and rural areas lost
400 people every year. Rural parts of
the state also have a larger percentage of older residents. So, what is ‘Small-Town’ USA going to do to
keep the town alive and thriving?
Renewable energy is a perfect partner for rural communities.
According to the American Wind Energy Association 2018
Annual Market Report, nationally, the wind industry has paid more than $1
billion every year in state and local taxes plus lease payments, including $289
million in annual land lease payments to landowners. Here in Minnesota,
annual state and local tax payments by wind projects have injected $15.5
million into the state economy. In
addition, another $10 - $15 million in annual land lease payments have been
paid to landowners. Most of these dollars
are going to the counties that have some of the lower per capita incomes in the
state. And, when people have more money
to spend, they often do. A study
from the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy
reveals that landowners with wind turbines on their property purchase more
farmland, plan to continue farming in the future, and are more likely to invest
in their property than those who lived in townships without wind farms. In
addition to investing in their farms, these landowners may also choose to make
home improvements or purchase equipment; and they shop locally, too.
When a wind project comes to a small town, a significant
economic ripple effect takes place. Local businesses see a boost from the
influx of workers during the construction phase. These folks rent homes or stay
in hotels, eat at restaurants, buy groceries and fill their gas tanks. When construction is over, a number of
permanent jobs remain, and new opportunities for existing businesses arise. Landscaping businesses may be hired to
maintain the operations building. Snow
plow operators may be hired to plow access roads to the turbines. Service
stations maintain the fleet of vehicles used by the wind farm operator who also
sets up an account at the local hardware store. This is exactly the type of
activity that keeps a town, and a community, alive and thriving.
The best part of this partnership between renewables and
landowners is that rural communities can keep their wide-open spaces, maintain
the farming and rural character of their town all while driving economic
activity. Furthermore, farmers will be contributing to the wider needs of our
country by producing home-grown, renewable energy that aids our national
security and helps keep energy prices low.
It can also help attract or keep younger people in rural areas by
providing family-supporting jobs, which also helps communities thrive.
Renewable energy is a perfect partner for rural America, and
just smart for Minnesota farmers.