|For the week of August 25, 2008|
An Energy Solution That’s Blowin’ in the Wind
Thousands of acres of land in the U.S. have lain dormant over the years producing little or no income. But landowners in some states may have found a way to make that same acreage productive while helping with the nation’s energy crisis. Land, previously unproductive due to terrain or poor soil, may just be the right place to locate turbines to produce wind energy.
Some of the land in question has produced income for owners through oil and gas leases, but in many cases, those days are over. Today, with prices for oil and gasoline at all-time highs, interest in the production of electricity at lower costs using energy other than fossil fuels is strong.
While the placement of wind turbines on acreage not suitable for farming is gaining momentum, farmers who choose to place them on more productive land can often continue to work the ground because the turbines use only a fraction of the space.
Advocates of wind energy cite several advantages. First, wind energy is generated by a clean energy source. It has no adverse effects on air quality. There are no emissions that contribute to environmental concerns such as acid rain, and there is no greenhouse gas production. Wind is a renewable, domestic source of energy and the nation’s supply is abundant. Wind is a form of solar energy caused by the heating of the atmosphere, the rotation of the earth, and the planet’s surface irregularities. Finally, wind energy is one of the lowest-priced renewable energy technologies – costing from 4 cents to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, depending on the wind resource and project financing.
The downside of wind energy production is that it takes a lot of turbines to generate energy at meaningful levels on the national scale. Also, since wind is not predictable, it is viewed by some as not dependable. Others dislike the fact that wind turbines disturb the beauty of the landscape. Some claim the machines are noisy, although there is considerable disagreement on this point. Finally, many of the locations where wind energy can be produced on a large scale lie great distances from where the produced energy will be used. Such distances require expensive substations and transmission lines cutting into the economics of wind energy.
What does all this mean for farmers and ranchers? The simple answer is that turbines can benefit the economy in rural areas where most of the best wind sites are located.
On land where no income has been produced in the past, turbines may have the potential to make that property more valuable. How much money do landowners receive? Research conducted for the Energy Department indicates rental payments vary. Examples from Minnesota and northern Iowa show annual land-lease payments ranging from $2,000 to more than $4,000 per turbine. The rent depends on the size of the wind turbine and how much electricity it produces as well as the selling price of the electricity. The payments typically represent from 2 percent to 4 percent of the annual gross revenue of the turbine.
Landowners who are wondering whether their property is suitable for the placement of wind turbines may view charts created by the Energy Department at http://www1.eere.energy.gov. Those charts show areas of the United States with the greatest potential for wind energy generation. They also show that one of the answers to our energy challenges may just be blowin’ in the wind.
Jerry Harke is director of issues management for the American Farm Bureau Federation.