Adding Value With Wind

Tue, 2012-08-14 16:07

Economic development often comes at the high cost of sacrificing natural resources. Land, water and air are all affected by urban sprawl. But the growing green economy has presented opportunities for more responsible development involving one of our most precious resources – farmland. Protection of agricultural land has become more critical as concerns over global warming and the effects of severe weather on our food supply move to the forefront.

Innovative farmers are adding value to their farmland through diversification and non-conventional farming enterprises such as agritourism. Farmers are also deploying renewable energy to protect their land, the environment, and their business. Wind is a particularly appealing source of renewable energy for farmers because it is compatible with other land uses. Among the wind turbines, farmers continue to use land for ranching, farming, hunting, recreation, and many other activities.

It’s impossible to evaluate wind as a contributor to the green economy without considering its impact on agriculture and farming.

Powering the Farm

Some farmers own their own wind turbines and use them to generate power for specific purposes on the land. In the West a rancher can use a small wind turbine to pump water for cattle. When a turbine produces more power than is needed on the land, net metering may be used to allow the farmer to get credit for the extra power that flows back into the grid for other utility customers to use. Net metering policies are in place in more than 40 states and provide farmers with considerable cost savings on utility bills.

Working With Wind Developers

Land leases are another way that farmers use wind to add value to their land. Farmers can lease land to wind developers, allowing large wind turbines to be installed on their land. Although the farmer does not own the turbine, and is not using it directly to produce power for the farm, the royalty payments provide an additional source of income, while land remains available for other uses.

Developing Wind Power to Sell

A farmer who is particularly savvy in renewable energy may choose to develop a wind farm on the land to produce and sell power to others. To reduce risk and lower the cost of such an investment, cooperative ownership of turbines is gaining popularity in the U.S., following Europe’s lead. Additional state incentives available for small wind projects have helped farmers to develop wind co-ops. In some regions, farmers have also had the opportunity to partner with rural electric co-ops to finance a wind project and sell the wind power to utility customers.

Improvement Through Research

Research is currently being done to unravel the complex questions surrounding the effects that wind turbines have on temperature and the movement of air surrounding the crops. According to a December 2011 issue of National Geographic, researchers have found that wind turbines may benefit crops. For example, mixing up the air allows for better distribution of the carbon dioxide used by the crops. While there are potential benefits, further research is required to learn how various crops are impacted in different regions. Farmers will be instrumental in furthering research and improving wind development as it relates to agriculture.

A Viable Option

According to the 2011 US Small Wind Turbine Market Report published by AWEA, “Climbing and variable energy prices drive interest in distributed wind, particularly in the agricultural sector and among consumers motivated to seek energy independence. Investments in on-site wind turbines offer a way to stabilize energy costs over the long term.”

Wind development is not without its challenges. But through continued research, technological advances, and community cooperation, the potential for meaningful impact from wind remains strong. If you are interested in learning more about wind power and helping to achieve the EPA’s goal of 20% wind by 2030, get started with Everblue’s Wind Energy Training course.

photo credit: brentdanley via photo pin cc

By Amy Malloy

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