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When Wind Turbines Move to Town – How Do Rural Communities Benefit?

By Anna Luke, American Wind Energy Association
Originally published on Into the Wind

It wasn’t always the case, but nowadays rural places are often among those in greatest need of new economic development. Sadly, the farm belt and Rust Belt have been losing jobs and investment for decades. It will take significant change to raise up rural communities, including welcoming new opportunities like wind. Rural areas already are home to 99 percent of the country’s wind turbines, with more on the way.

Building a wind farm can be a big change for a small town, but a number of benefits come along with those changes, including:

1. Job Creation

Hundreds of construction workers come to town during the build-out, bringing new regulars to the local diner. And full-time employees will have jobs at the wind farm, often a major new town employer. There are now more than 100,000 people working in the wind industry, and wind turbine technician is the fastest growing job in America. This is a huge opportunity for young men and women who are looking for good-paying jobs in rural towns.


2. Economic Development

It’s typically pretty rare when a multi-million dollar economic investment comes knocking at the door of a small town. When else does that happen? Maybe when a new superstore wants to open a location near you or a sports team relocates to your area.

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

When April 15 rolls around, how would you like to pay no local taxes? For the town of Sheldon, N.Y., the project generated so much tax revenue that local residents paid no taxes for eight years. Payments went to improving roads, building a basketball court at the town park, and erecting new walls at the town’s cemeteries.


4. Landowner Lease Payments

Rural landowners receive nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in lease payments every year for hosting wind turbines, acting as their new “drought-resistant cash crop.” Many project developers also provide payments to other residents living nearby as a goodwill gesture as well. These payments are significant income streams and can help keep the farm in the family.


5. Funding for Community Projects

The companies that own wind projects want to be good corporate citizens, and often donate to local charities and community projects like parades, restoration efforts, and youth clubs. For example, Enel Green Power North America and TradeWind donated $50,000 to renovate Leonardo Children’s Museum in Enid, Oklahoma, which included improvements like an interactive Power Tower exhibit on oil, natural gas, wind and solar power.

Utility-scale wind projects are a big adjustment for small communities, but they bring significant benefits to town. To hear about some on-the-ground experiences with wind, check out some more YouTube testimonials.

Rural Texas Speaks Out: Tells Lawmakers to Keep Supporting Chapter 313

One of the most valuable tools Texas uses to attract major investments to Texas is currently under assault in the legislature.  Lawmakers in Austin who don’t understand the innovative Chapter 313 program, are working to take this tool away from Texas counties and school districts.  The loss would be felt immediately, especially in rural areas that have used 313 to attract more than $32 billion in wind energy investments.

WIND BENEFITS ALL OF TEXAS.  Texas has benefited tremendously from wind energy’s growth.  Wind is bringing cheaper power to consumers statewide.  Wind is bringing new revenue streams to support farmers and ranchers.  Wind is creating new high-quality jobs, delivering economic opportunity in our rural communities.  And, wind is creating new, stable, long-term tax revenue for local governments and schools.

Wind energy has become the reliable, affordable, stably priced energy source that other industries rely on too.  More and more companies are committing to use wind energy from Texas to make their manufacturing cheaper, and to guarantee long-term affordably priced power.  From our chemical manufacturers on the Gulf Coast, to our automobile manufacturers in the Metroplex, to small factories in towns across the state; leading American companies are using Texas wind energy to be competitive and that wind is making Texas more attractive for job-creating investments.

313 WORKS FOR RURAL TEXAS.  One of the reasons that wind energy has been competitive in Texas is the Chapter 313 program.  As rural communities know well, Chapter 313 in our tax code gives local communities and school districts a discretionary tool to help attracts investments that grow the economy.  This essential tool helps communities compete against other states where taxes are lower by offering a short-term property tax reduction. Because wind energy projects are long-term projects with expected lives of 25 years or more, a short-term tax incentive delivers long-term value to schools and other property tax payers.

The attack on the ability of rural communities to attract investment is real.  If certain lawmakers in the capitol have their way, one of the most valuable and flexible economic development tools available to rural Texas will disappear, or be limited dramatically.  In some cases, proposed changes target wind energy development.  That means that, while other areas of the state will benefit from the program in other industries, rural areas with rich wind energy resources, will be left behind.

That’s why rural constituents are reaching out to Austin, keeping the pressure on until the legislature adjourn on May 29th.  Until then, they’ll be reminding them that rural Texas needs tools to attract investments and grow rural economies.  The Chapter 313 program is one of the most important tools available today, a critically important tool for rural economic development, and one that community leaders rely on to grow their tax base and economy that funds local schools and communities.

If you have questions about the 313 program, please contact Alerts@WindCoalition.org.

In the News: Rural Nebraska Lawmaker Sees Wind Energy as an Urgent Lifeline

By Karen Uhlenhuth; From Nebraska Energy News

Read the story online at:  http://midwestenergynews.com/2015/12/16/rural-nebraska-lawmaker-sees-wind-energy-as-an-urgent-lifeline/ 

Nebraska state Sen. Al Davis is a rancher, a longtime resident of rural Nebraska, a proponent of renewable energy, and a Republican. Now going into his fourth year as a state legislator, Davis views this as a propitious moment for his home state to convert much more its abundant wind into exportable energy.

Living in the Sandhills community of Hyannis, with a population of just under 200, he has witnessed the challenges that threaten sparsely populated rural America. His district, which is roughly twice the size of New Jersey in area, has fewer than 40,000 people, and that population is declining.

One way to reverse that trend, he believes, lies in the development of wind energy.

Midwest Energy News asked him to elaborate on his observations and his vision for Nebraska’s future.

Midwest Energy News: You’re a member of a rather small club – Republican supporters of clean energy. How did that happen?

Davis: I look at a lot of what I do in terms of what will benefit my district. I have a wind energy association – the Cherry County Wind Association – in my district. I’m very eager to see that develop.

What is the Cherry County Wind Association?

It’s a group of landowners who have gotten together their 400,000 acres, and their goal is to get wind energy developed in Cherry County. My district is very rural, and we are constantly fighting depopulation. We have this tremendous natural resource out there that should be developed. If it is, it might help to repopulate rural Nebraska.

If wind is going to be developed, we can do it in Nebraska, or we can let it happen somewhere else. There are really pretty significant property tax benefits to wind energy, and that is something we grapple with in Nebraska. We have extremely high property tax rates. Statewide, they average maybe second highest in the country.

Public education is the big driver of property taxes. As far as state government, we are 49th in terms of state funding of public education. So that means the vast majority of funding has to come from property taxes.

So you’re interested in wind energy primarily as an economic development tool, to bring in people?

Yes, western Nebraska is depopulating so quickly, and services are very hard to bring together. [Some] students drive 50 miles one way to to go to school. Wind energy could bring jobs and some stability to some of these areas of Nebraska.

Are you interested in solar energy as well?

Definitely. Amazingly enough, you wouldn’t think of western Nebraska as good solar territory. But because we have sunny days and dry air, there’s more potential there than you might think. I think solar really has a future.

Are you pursuing solar at all in the legislature?

Yes. When wind was developed in the state, everything with the turbine was classified as personal property, which depreciates very quickly. The worry was that we’d have an abundance (of tax revenue) the first few years, then it would be depreciated and there would be nothing left.

The legislature passed the nameplate capacity tax. That changed the way it’s taxed. (The property tax) is lower at first for the development company, but it stabilizes income for the taxing entities….over the life of the turbine.

Solar was not a part of that…..I introduced a bill last year…..We put that in place last year so solar now is treated the same as a wind turbine….It’s never good for a taxing entity to have a huge influx of taxes one year, and then have that depreciate out. Now, they always know what the tax will be.

What sort of clean-energy debate do you expect in the upcoming session?

I think there will be a bill to strip protections from public power. In Nebraska, if a project is built by anyone, public power has the right to say, “We want that project; we want to own that project.” That dampens the ability of developers to come in. There may be some discussion to eliminate that.

What is discouraged by that prerogative for public power?

I think it discourages development. If you want to build a project, you’re going to go to a state where there isn’t that regulation.

Is there much support in the Nebraska legislature for clean energy?

I think we’ve got a lot interest in it in Nebraska. We have had low power rates in Nebraska, and everybody was satisfied with the current arrangement. But rates have been climbing, and Nebraska is losing its distinction as low-rate state.

Iowa has a big wind industry even though its resource isn’t as good as ours. Kansas and Oklahoma have done a lot, and Colorado has a big wind industry. My colleagues are saying that if we don’t do something quickly, our opportunity will be gone. We’ll buy wind from other states.

One problem in Nebraska is we generate more energy than can consume much of the year, so it’s hard to prove a need for more energy. If we’re going to do anything, we have to look to the export market. That means we have to come up with a way to encourage transmission and remove barriers to transmission construction.

What barriers to you see out there?

The biggest barrier we have is that Nebraska is not a very populated state. We need to look to market that power elsewhere, whether it’s to the front range in Colorado or Kansas City or Chicago. Because of our location, transmission is going to be very costly. And turbines are getting more and more efficient all the time, so you can build in less-windy areas and get more energy.

If you were going to serve Chicago, you could build a turbine in rural Illinois and create as much energy (as in a windier place like Nebraska.) That’s a big problem for us. We have to think outside the box as far as how we’re going to get the transmission built.

Are you feeling the clock ticking?

I definitely think it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

How hopeful are you that leaders in the state will do something about wind in time?

I am optimistic, but I’m a realist. We’re going to need a production tax credit, and….the rules and regulations that have inhibited development, those will have to go away.

And then I’d love to see – Berkshire Hathaway, I’m going to throw out a name – that’s the owner of most Nebraska wind energy – an entity like that has the resources to do transmission. If we could remove the restrictions, I think that would be viable. If we can get the transmission done, we can compete with anyone. It we wait, it’ll be too late. We’ll be the only state in the Great Plains that doesn’t have a significant portfolio of renewable resources.

I think the thing that would most quickly move Nebraska to a more renewable-friendly status is if we were to lose out on a high-tech industry that wants to go to a state with more green energy. Facebook was looking at Kearney (a city in central Nebraska) and someplace in Iowa (to develop a data center). They went to Iowa because Iowa had more green energy. That seemed to mobilize interest here that I didn’t see before.

Nothing drives economic change like a corporation saying, “We want something different.”