In a time of great economic hardship for rural America, wind energy offers a lifeline of economic opportunities. In Iowa, our rural communities have been getting hit from all sides for years. As we look at the struggles, we have faced and the long road ahead, we should push for investment in the industries that provide Iowans with economic opportunity and good jobs–especially our home-grown wind energy industry.
Ranking number one in the nation for percentage of electricity generated by wind, Iowa boasts a large wind energy industry, employing 10,000 Iowans in careers ranging from construction to engineering to manufacturing. As tech companies search for renewable energy sources to power their business operations, rural Iowa stands as an ideal setting for wind energy development, attracting the likes of Google and Facebook.
In recent years Iowans are finding it increasingly hard to find well-paying jobs in rural areas, forcing a generation of young folks to leave the hometowns they love. For communities near wind energy developments, though, jobs in the industry provide incredible opportunities. With just a two year degree available from numerous higher education institutions across Iowa, Wind Technicians can expect to earn upwards of $60,000 a year, money that goes a long way in supporting a family in small-town Iowa. About 70% of wind capacity is located in low-income counties, bringing jobs to those sorely in need of greater economic opportunity.
Farmers and producers have had it rough for years–trade relations have hurt export contracts, unprecedented rainy seasons have prevented farmers from planting, and the COVID-19 pandemic has suppressed demand for agricultural products used to feed our country and make ethanol. Now more than ever, farmers and landowners are looking for ways to shore up their income to weather the tough times. For many, land leases to host a wind turbine on their property have been a welcome lifeline. Since the average wind farm leaves 98% of land undisturbed, agricultural activity can continue uninterrupted, with the added benefit of a reliable stream of income that can weather any trade deal or economic downturn. In Iowa alone, landowners hosting wind turbines have received annual lease payments exceeding $69 million. That money goes to Iowa families, buying groceries at their local grocery store, going to shops and restaurants on Main Street, and supporting other Iowa businesses.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically depressed sales tax revenue, the local property taxes paid by wind farm developments are as important as ever for supporting vital government services. Annual state and local tax payments by wind projects in Iowa total to $61 million dollars. That money pays for textbooks, new roads, key infrastructure projects, emergency medical services, and more. Iowa Counties report that the new revenue from wind projects has enabled them to undertake public infrastructure projects they never thought possible without raising taxes on taxpayers.
Wind energy offers just the kind of opportunities and economic growth rural Iowa needs at this very moment. It would do us well to keep Iowa’s wind energy industry in mind as we look towards the future.