May 14th, 2020
Harnessing the power of wind, Iowa is leading the rest of the United States in the ever-evolving quest for energy. Last year, the state reached an important benchmark, replacing coal-fired power with wind as their largest single source of electricity.
According to a 2019 report from the American Wind Energy Association, Iowa is generating over 10,000 megawatts of wind energy, which adds up to more than 40% of the state’s electricity. The report lists Iowa as second only to Texas in total wind industry jobs, counting more than 9,000. The state’s economic investment in wind energy was up $3 billion last year, reaching $19 billion in total. In a highly unpredictable time for the farming industry, wind could be the answer to getting Iowa’s economy off the ground.
Unfortunately while wind energy in Iowa has skyrocketed, so too have farm bankruptcy rates. Last year Chapter 12 filings reached an eight-year high,landing Iowa in the top ten states for farm bankruptcies nationwide. From unpredictable weather patterns, to trade wars and fluctuating markets, farming has long been known to be a precarious endeavor. Despite the high number of bankruptcies in Iowa, good news remains as wind is one of the cheapest ways to produce energy. The natural flow of air across the sweeping landscape of the Great Plains makes it a no-brainer for farmers who are fortunate enough to replace their second job with turbines on their land. Reminiscent of the oil wells that saved Texas ranchers during the droughts of the 1950s, wind can mean the difference between selling the farm and holding out for the next rainy day.
With a down-to-earth and common-sense approach to life, Iowans are embracing this new opportunity. The land yields what it will, the weather does what it does — work the land and God-willing, reap the harvest. And, the wind is seen as just another crop. Kerri Johannsen, Energy Program Director with the Iowa Environmental Council, says: “It’s not so much about green energy at all, but economics.” Wind helps support farmers’ long-term plans. When they own land with turbines, farmers are more likely to have a succession plan in place, according to Sarah Mills who researches land use and energy policy at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “What they told me was that the guaranteed income that comes from hosting a turbine was convincing their kids that farming wasn’t such a risky business,” she said. Farmers with wind income invested more in their barns, tractors, and other farming operations than neighbors without turbines. With leases spanning 30-40 years, strong winds bring a strong return on investment.