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[note: this OpEd was sent out to and picked up by news organizations last week]
Today’s farmers are interested in wind energy because they’re good managers; farming is all about maximizing profits and reducing risk. Wind energy does both. It’s an additional, steady source of income that doesn’t require extra work, a second crop that can be harvested without effort or significant use of land.
Some people might believe because wind turbines are such large structures that they take substantial acres of property out of production. This is a common misconception. In reality, wind turbines occupy a small area, leaving 99% of farmland in production.
A rule of thumb regarding wind farm land use is that, while each turbine generally needs a plot of about 100 acres separating it from other turbines, the actual footprint of each turbine is less than one acre. This footprint includes the area surrounding the turbine and all access roads. Therefore, each turbine occupies less than 1% of the open land required by a wind farm, leaving the other 99% of the property available as farmland or pasture.
To examine the impact wind energy can make on a small amount of land, let’s envision a hypothetical farmer, John, who grows corn on 500 acres of land. According to the 2008 Riverland Community College Farm Business Management Annual Report for Southeast Minnesota, the average return per acre of corn from 1999-2008 was $60.13 per acre. A total of 500 acres of corn at $60.13 profit equals $30,065 per year. This is the farmer’s return on labor and management after investing capital, labor, management and taking commodity and weather risks.
Now, imagine that John has five turbines on his farm, occupying five of his cropping acres, leaving him with 495 acres of corn. His farming conditions are the same, so from those acres he’ll make $29,764 in profit, based on the 10 year average profit of $60.13 per acre. But add in the revenue from the turbines—$35,000 total assuming $7,000 per turbine (on the low end of what National Wind pays)—and his total profits increase to $64,764 per year. This would be almost double his profits from growing only corn without turbines. Under National Wind’s community model, the profit structure may be even better if landowners take an ownership stake in a project company and share in the actual profits generated.
What if there is heavy flooding or drought next summer, and John is only able to harvest a fraction of expected yield? His revenue could drop to a level below his expenses. Maybe he would break even with the help of crop insurance, but he won’t see a cent of profit. If he had turbines on his property, he would still earn $35,000 in profits. Turbine revenues help to buffer against these acts of God and resulting price volatilities. This allows the farmer to diversify his income and reduce risk.
Wind is another crop that more and more farmers are harvesting. With a small initial outlay of land, a turbine can continue to provide income for years into the future. After construction is complete, the practice of farming continues as it has for generations, with the bonus of added financial security.
Patrick Pelstring is the Co-Founder and Co-Chair of National Wind.
Earlier this month, an anonymous editorial was printed in the Aberdeen News praising National Wind’s community-based business model. The writer applauded National Wind for devising a method that helps to ensure local acceptance of a wind project by offering communities a financial stake.
The most appealing feature of the National Wind approach is in its capacity to overcome resistance to the concept by making the process as easy (and potentially remunerative) as possible for local residents. This is precisely what is needed to deliver America out of the wilderness of good intentions and talk into a new frontier of action.
We’d like to thank the writer for taking the time to write to the paper. It’s people like you who make our community wind model feasible. We’ll continue to develop wind projects driven by local partnerships and work toward a sustainable future for communities everywhere.
Read the rest of the editorial at the Aberdeen News.
While wind energy is no stranger to the British Isles, a freshly begun wind energy project in the Green Isle of Ireland aims to shake up the traditional model by which most projects are developed. The slopes of Mount Callan in southwest Ireland will soon be host to 30 wind turbines bringing greater energy independence to the region through the use of a community-wind model.
This new project spearheaded by West Clare Renewable Energy Ltd. (WCRE) is ambitious on several accounts. First, it will stand out as one of Ireland’s largest wind farms in terms of size and energy harnessed. Estimated to cost €200 million (about $300 million USD) to complete, it will create enough energy to power every home and business in County Clare in addition to meeting the Limerick Clare Energy Agency’s 2010 goals for renewable energy production and emissions reduction. Secondly, the turbines themselves are three megawatt models that generate twice as much electricity as the industry standard 1.5 megawatt turbines. These turbines will be constructed across approximately 3,000 acres of land surrounding the mountain owned by 30 farming families who will have a majority shareholding in the project. This last feature is arguably the most intriguing as it shirks traditional wind energy approaches where utilities and corporate developers retain high fractions of the total revenue generated by the project.
The community-wind model embraced by the Mount Callan wind farm will help keep the profits near the region of the farm itself, reenergizing the rural area with new income and additional jobs. Padraig Howard (pictured with his daughter at left), chairman of WCRE and a local entrepreneur, explains how County Clare “now has the potential to become the renewable energy-generating center of Ireland,” adding how the project, if completed, would “create significant environmental benefits, sustainable employment, generate increased incomes for landowners and farmers, and result in reduced energy costs for consumers.”