Wind farms don't just deliver carbon dioxide savings – new federal research confirms that turbines in rural areas can infuse millions of dollars into local schools and other public services.
In a study of wind power in Summit County, Utah, researchers found that developing the area's wind resource would deliver a significant economic boom: Operating a 130-megawatt installation, enough to power roughly 40,000 homes, would generate $1.6 million in property tax revenues for local schools each year. It would also lead to $390,000 in annual lease payments to landowners.
During construction, the site would generate about $73.3 million in total economic impacts for the entire state and create 658 jobs.
The joint study by the U.S. Department of Energy and Utah State University used the Job and Economic Development Impact (JEDI) model developed by the DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to crunch the numbers.
The findings, the researchers hope, will let Summit County locals look at the benefits of wind square on. This is vital. While federal and state policies are increasingly encouraging wind power and other renewable energy development in Utah, it's not enough:
"Approval of specific projects hinges on the support of county commissioners, city council members, mayors, local community leaders, and citizens," the study notes. Bringing to light the local economic impacts of wind power "can help decision makers evaluate the potential opportunities for their communities," and "secure ongoing community support."
This is especially true of wind's effect on the state's cash-strapped rural schools. In Utah, a substantial portion of property tax revenues generated from new wind projects go directly to local school districts.
Time for citizens to get the facts, the report suggests.
Certainly the state's wind industry, which hardly exists, could use the PR push. In June 2008, after a four-year struggle, Utah inaugurated its first commercial wind farm, the Spanish Fork Wind Project, a small 18.9-megawatt operation in Utah County.
A previous DOE-Utah State study tallied the numbers on the project. While tiny, the installation is expected to generate more than $74,000 in lease payments to Spanish Fork landowners in 2009. It will also generate more than $112,000 in local property taxes for Utah County. Seventy-five percent of those funds will be sent to the local school district.
The results out of Utah are consistent with other recent research. NREL's studies using the JEDI Model for Colorado and Nebraska – as well as the National Resource Defense Council's analysis of Missouri – arrived at the same general conclusion: Wind farms revitalize rural communities.
As NREL summarized in its Colorado study:
"Wind power projects generate tax revenues that are used to improve schools and other public services, which in turn improve the quality of life in rural areas. Local landowners also receive extra income in the form of land lease payments from wind turbines located on their land.
"New wind power installations also offer other benefits, such as use tax generation, sales tax generation, transmission line impacts, water savings, price stability, and environmental benefits."
A national study released late last year by NREL, 20% Wind Energy by 2030, estimated that achieving the Department of Energy's goal of getting 20 percent of America's power in two decades would generate nearly $1 trillion in economic activity and employ some 250,000 workers per year. It would also provide local communities with $1.9 billion in additional property taxes and landowners with $783 million in lease payments. Much of that growth will take place in depressed rural areas.
Still, opponents of climate legislation continue to claim that a cap-and-trade pact designed to usher in new wind and other renewable energy development would be an economic killer for rural America. Groups including the American Petroleum Institute claim the House-passed American Clean Energy and Security Act could result in 2 million lost jobs. In contrast, the Center for American Progress has said 1.7 million new green jobs could be born from the bill.
Defending cap and trade and its potential impact on rural economies, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack had this to say in a recent op-ed in the Des Moines Register:
"When we address climate change, we will not only fend off a looming climate crisis, but we will revitalize rural America.
"As farmers, ranchers and land managers look to install an anaerobic digester or build a wind farm, someone will be needed to build the machines and install the systems. And, because many of these technologies will be utilized in rural areas, many of these jobs will be created in rural America."