ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON: American Wind Energy Association
WRITTEN BY: Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association
Moving up the economic ladder can be much more difficult in rural America than in other places.That was the key finding from a recent report on the differences between urban and less-populated parts of the county. As the study’s authors stated in their introduction, “Place matters.” There are any number of reasons why this might be the case. Rural areas generally offer fewer job opportunities, and small tax bases may struggle to fund schools. Incomes can falter as a result.
However, researchers at the bipartisan Economic Innovation Group found an important exception: rural communities that are comparatively well-off are able to provide their children with the very best springboard to enhanced economic prospects, it turns out.
“Prosperous rural areas can provide a significantly greater boost to children than even prosperous urban areas, suggesting that the quintessential engine of economic mobility may not be the urban melting pots of Horatio Alger-style myth, but rather the small town communities of the Upper Midwest,” their report explains.
Here is where wind power has a role to play.
Because 99 percent of wind farms are built in rural areas, they bring economic development into these regions on a nearly unmatched scale. Wind has driven over $140 billion of investment over the past decade, and another $85 billion of economic activity is on the way in just the next four years.
Many of the country’s 100,000-strong wind energy jobs benefit rural communities, with more coming. By the end of President Trump’s first term, the U.S. could have 248,000 wind-related jobs, in wind companies, the supply chain, and the communities surrounding wind farms and factories.
Much of this goes right to the rural areas that need it most.
Because wind farms are often the biggest taxpayers in a county, they swell local coffers. That new revenue helps pay teacher salaries, buy new school computers, build classrooms, and expand educational opportunities in other ways.
Consider the Lincolnview School District, in the rural northwestern corner of Ohio. After a wind farm was built several years ago, the school district was able to provide every student from grades K through 12 with a new laptop — and fund the repair and replacement program, too. Lincolnview offers advanced classes in biomedical and pre-engineering it would not have been able to fund before the wind farm.
Or take Lowville, a rural town in upstate New York. The Lowville school district funded new Advanced Placement classes, and it built new athletic fields using funds from a nearby wind farm. In fact, researchers from Syracuse University are currently studying Lowville schools because their students perform significantly better on standardized tests than students from similarly income-constrained areas.
“This opportunity with wind, it’s incredible to see. It’s been the number one economic development we’ve ever had,” says Jeff Snyder, Lincolnview school district superintendent. “I don’t know any better way to spend money than on kids and our future.”
These resources open opportunities for economic mobility.
While the researchers point to the Upper Midwest in their report as an example of prosperous rural areas, we in the wind industry also look to the area because it showcases wind power’s potential.
I would like to think the two are related.
Iowa sits right in the middle of that Upper Midwest region, and no state has better taken advantage of its God-given wind resource. Today wind supplies over 35 percent of the state’s electricity, and the resulting job creation and economic development is impressive.
Over 8,000 Iowans now have wind-related jobs, many of them at 11 in-state factories that build wind turbines and parts. Iowa’s farmers get over $20 million a year in lease payments for hosting turbines. That’s income they can count on rain or shine. And wind farm construction has brought $11.8 billion of investment into the state’s economy, including $1 billion investments from both MidAmerican Energy and Alliant Energy.
More is on the way. Iowa could have over 17,000 wind-related jobs and another $9 billion of additional economic activity from wind power by 2020.
That is how you bring economic development into rural America, and offer our children futures full of opportunity.