Can Wind Turbines Help Keep Rural America Intact?
November 26, 2014
Wind Turbines offer rural communities a model for development, besides what has normally been the only offering in recent decades, (at least in my state) – new prisons.
Keeping rural communities vital is a valuable hedge against sprawl, preserves valuable farmland, and keeps families and communities intact. Our small town folk need all the help they can get.
Research is showing that support for wind turbines rises in communities that actually have them.
“That landowner is receiving … $8,000 to $10,000 for that turbine and access road to be there,” The (Michigan Department of Agriculture) looks at $200 an acre as net farm income typically. If they’re getting $8,000 to $10,000 for half an acre, that’s why the farmers are doing it.”
(in a study)Titled “Farming the Wind: Preserving Agriculture through Wind Energy Development,”
(University of Michigan doctoral student Sarah) Mills sought answers to the following questions:
• Do revenues rural landowners receive from wind energy projects change their on-farm investments or long-term succession plans?
• How does proximity to a wind farm impact residential demand for farmland?
• How do zoning ordinances affect availability of developable land in the area surrounding a wind farm?
Mills said she also spoke with township supervisors, assessors, realtors and auctioneers. In doing so, she heard a “really interesting” prospect.
“There might actually be a possible connection between wind income and new home building,” Mills said. “A couple supervisors were telling me there are new houses being built in these townships with wind turbines, and they’re being built by people who have turbines on their property.”
The study showed participating landowners are more likely to build a new home, but that those not on farmland are still building.
“My hypothesis was that people don’t want to build a brand new house in the midst of a wind farm,” Mills said. “I didn’t find that that’s actually the case.”
What she did find is that people with turbines on their property invest “twice as much as everybody else.”
In fact, this support is highest in places that already have experience with utility-scale turbines, despite some concerns about potential local government and citizen opposition due to the nearly 500-foot tall machines.
In jurisdictions where wind energy has been a topic of discussion, the survey asked local government leaders if they support or oppose the placement of new turbines of any size in their own jurisdiction, and found:
- 53 percent supported new local wind turbines while just 16 percent oppose them.
- Support rises to 75 percent among local leaders in jurisdictions that already have utility-scale turbines.
- The primary factors encouraging adoption of wind power are economic issues, including revenue for land-owners, local property tax revenue, and job creation.
- The most common factors that discourage adoption of wind power are concerns about visual and noise impacts, as well potential negative outcomes on property values.
“We were surprised by the particularly high levels of support in jurisdictions where large turbines are already spinning. These findings might allay some of the concerns about further expanding the use of wind power in Michigan,” said Sarah Mills, a doctoral student and policy analyst at the U-M Ford School’s Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP), which conducted the survey as part of the Michigan Public Policy Survey program.
Since the ‘80s, government’s only real tools for protecting farmland have been providing preferential taxes to farmers or purchasing the development rights to farmers’ land, Mills says. But she wants to study other approaches. For example, she’s fascinated by the possibilities of a concentration of recently erected wind turbines in central Michigan; the 133 turbines spread over about 200 farms in Gratiot County make up the largest wind farm in the state. In addition to generating electricity, the turbines could play an important role in preservation: first, they bring farmers rent, an important subsidy to their farming operations; second, safety rules bar building near the towering structures, effectively stopping development cold.
Where wind energy is a topic of discussion, 53% of officials support adding turbines in their own jurisdictions, while 16% oppose this. However, in jurisdictions where turbines are currently sited, local officials’ support for additional local wind development significantly increases, to as much as 75% in jurisdictions with utility-scale turbines currently.