TODAY’S STUDY: THE MANY LOCAL BENEFITS OF WIND
At Wind Speed: How the U.S. Wind Industry is Rapidly Growing Our Local Economies
Hannah Druckenmiller, September 2012 (National Resources Defense Council)
Over the last two decades, the U.S. wind industry has grown dramatically and is providing communities across America with tremendous benefits. More than 50,000 megawatts of wind power—the power equivalent of thirteen Hoover Dams—are installed in the United States. Meanwhile, American companies such as General Electric dominate the global wind turbine industry, and in almost every state are expanding to meet the increasing global demand for wind power. This report shows how wind power is rebuilding individual communities in America, while creating much-needed jobs, reducing pollution that harms our children's health, and cutting our dependence on dirty and limited fossil fuels.
Americans like wind power and want our country to support even greater deployment of this clean, renewable resource. In some surveys, nine out of 10 voters say they support efforts to increase wind-power generation, and two-thirds of Americans say they think clean energy technologies, such as wind power, will be an important source of economic growth in the future…
Surprisingly, while the benefits of a well-sited wind project or expanding wind manufacturer can be significant—from new jobs and local worker training programs to increased city tax revenues and more school funding—they are often overlooked or underestimated. This report seeks to rectify that. In an attempt to show fully the real-world benefits of the wind industry, this report focuses on four case studies in Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, and Oregon, drawing from accounts of the actual residents from those communities.
Reaping the Community Benefits of Wind Power
Sherman County, Oregon, has seen huge increases in revenues from local wind farms. Before the wind energy industry came to town, this rural community had few employment opportunities and a small tax base. As almost any Sherman County resident will tell you, since installing a swath of power-producing wind turbines, the county has reaped impressive benefits including increases in per capita income and the local tax base.
Residents of Livingston County, Illinois, tell a similar story of economic development. There, the wind industry has boosted the local tax base, created new jobs, and provided lease payments to local landowners. Wind developers in Livingston County also pay fees that are dedicated to spurring local economic development and helping the county’s small businesses.
Other towns are reaping the new economic benefits from companies that manufacture parts for the wind industry.
In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, two wind companies helped create a renewable energy technician program at Kirkwood Community College that is now training workers for new, good-paying wind industry jobs. And, in Canton, Ohio, a wind company built the first wind energy research and development center of its kind.
Lessons Learned from Wind-Boom Communities
Across each of these case studies, there are a number of commonalities and overarching themes. Hence, while a limited sample size, several lessons can be taken from these efforts and serve as useful guidance to communities eager to participate in the growing wind industry:
n Distributing the economic benefits of wind energy can ensure that all community members share in the wind wealth. While the wind industry benefits land owners and workers most directly, in both Sherman and Livingston Counties, a wide range of community members have prospered from wind farm development. Since the wind farms have moved into town, small businesses have seen increased activity, schools have secured more funding for students, and farmers have found new revenues from turbines planted in their fields. In addition, a compensation program in Sherman County directly distributes the revenue from wind farms to each household, awarding every resident an annual check for $590.
n Reinvesting new revenue from taxes and special fees on wind farms in the community can ensure long lasting benefits of wind farm development and advance other priorities critical to communities. In Sherman and Livingston Counties, a substantial portion of the revenue from wind farms has gone to local school systems, allowing them to buy new equipment, hire additional teachers, and expand elective programs.
In addition, Livingston County has dedicated the $6 million fee collected on Streator Cayuga Ridge South Wind Farm to spurring economic development in the region. With many city, county, and state budgets currently constrained, these new revenue streams can help communities maintain and advance other critical priorities. Such investments in the future also ensure that the economic boosts to these rural communities will last for years to come.
n The extent of the wind energy supply chain creates potential for clustering in communities participating in the wind industry. Where there is wind farm development, a range of businesses—including management firms, construction companies, and fuel suppliers—are needed to support the industry. Moreover, communities involved in wind energy manufacturing can become hubs for renewable energy. For instance, in Canton, Ohio, the success of one large wind company has created new opportunities for local businesses to join the wind energy supply chain. It also resulted in the creation of a Wind Energy Research and Development Center, generating hundreds of American manufacturing jobs and making the city a center for technological innovation.
n Training programs developed in partnership with the wind industry benefit local students and wind companies alike. Wind farms create hundreds of jobs in manufacturing, construction, and operation. Communities can help ensure these jobs stay local by creating wind energy technician training programs. Cedar Rapids, Iowa’s new Energy Production and Distribution program at Kirkwood Community College, for instance, trains both seasoned manufacturing hands and young students to participate in the quickly growing wind manufacturing sector. In Sherman County, Columbia Gorge Community College’s renewable energy technician program teaches local residents to be wind turbine operators, creating a new base of skilled labor in the rural community. These training programs benefit wind companies by giving them access to skilled workers trained on the very equipment they will manufacture and operate, and communities by enhancing the existing skills of local workers and providing students with new training and job opportunities.
Extending Important Incentives to Build on Wind-Powered Returns to Communities
It is important to point out that smart policies and incentives have played a critical role in producing all the gains that come with wind power. We need to ensure that these means to advancing the wind industry are preserved and expanded. Unfortunately, critical federal incentives, such as the Production Tax Credit (PTC), which provides a tax credit to wind projects for the clean renewable power they generate, is scheduled to expire at the end of this year. Across the nation, the PTC has played a valuable role in leveling the playing field for wind power and growing an industry that now provides jobs to 75,000 Americans. The PTC has encouraged innovation and better wind technologies that have led to a 90 percent reduction in the cost of wind power since 1980.
Extending the PTC could create another 17,000 new wind energy jobs; letting it expire could cost 37,000 Americans their jobs. In previous years when the PTC expired, there have been massive drops in wind installations. In 2000, for instance, when Congress declined to extend the PTC, new wind installations fell 93 percent…
The communities of Sherman and Livingston Counties, Canton, and Cedar Rapids represent powerful cornerstones of a growing American manufacturing and innovation resurgence—where we learn how to most effectively produce clean, renewable energy like wind power and use it to help our citizens, our schools, our workers, and our children.
Only by insisting that our lawmakers continue to support renewable power with important programs like the PTC can we help ensure that the wind industry—and the communities and residents that benefit from it—keep growing.
Wind energy is an important part of our future. As we replace our aging energy infrastructure and look for ways to both rebuild our economy and compete in new global industries, all while minimizing pollution, renewable energy resources like wind power can provide the secure, reliable, and clean energy options that Americans of all political stripes want. As this report shows, moving forward and embracing clean, renewable energy that is found in the United States has the ability to transform our communities in dramatic ways.
Each of the communities profiled in this report have been on the frontlines of the growing wind industry. While the details may differ, the story remains the same: wind development, when pursued sustainably, with strategic reinvestment, and a broad distribution of benefits, can be immensely helpful to communities around the country. A community can leverage its historical advantages, the existing skillsets of its residents, and its local resource base to support wind manufacturing and an accompanying supply chain. Or, a community with good wind resources can harness that wind energy and use the accompanying financial returns to reinvest in their schools, their roads and local economic development.
Unfortunately, all of this gain is under threat, due to the increasing uncertainty of not extending important support for clean, renewable energy like wind power. Passing an extension of the PTC and preserving and bolstering other successful federal and state policies would help American communities in all sorts of ways, from keeping and creating local jobs, to cleaning up local air and water, to increasing government revenues that can be reinvested in schools and roads, to growing local industries that can benefit the entire area. On the other hand, allowing the PTC to expire will block the wind industry's growth, and could hinder other communities from seeing the kinds of benefits outlined in this report.
Ultimately, the choice is ours. We can ignore the considerable benefits from wind power or we can move forward and invest in this new, and exciting clean energy future, bringing these benefits to communities across America.