Magazine article The Futurist

Farmers Harvest the Wind

Magazine article The Futurist

Farmers Harvest the Wind

Article excerpt

Wind-generated electricity may save many family farms.

Some farmers and ranchers in the United States are raising a new cash crop: electricity. They have discovered that they own not only land but also the wind rights that go with that land.

A farmer in Iowa who leases a quarter acre of cropland to the local utility as a site for a wind turbine can typically earn $2,000 a year in royalties from the electricity produced. In a good year, that same plot can produce $100 worth of corn. Wind turbines strung across the farm at appropriate intervals can provide a welcome boost to farm income, yielding a year-round cash flow.

Harnessing the wind has become increasingly profitable. The American Wind Energy Association reports that the cost per kilowatt-hour of wind-generated electricity has fallen from 38[cts.] in the early 1980s to 3[cts.]-6[cts.] in 2000, depending primarily on wind speed at the site. Already competitive with other sources, the cost of wind-generated electricity is expected to continue to decline. These falling costs, facilitated by advances in wind turbine design, help explain why wind power is expanding rapidly beyond its original stronghold in California.

As wind farms have come online in farming and ranching states such as Minnesota, Iowa, Texas, and Wyoming, wind electric generation has soared, pushing U.S. wind generating capacity from 1,928 megawatts in 1998 to 2,490 megawatts in 1999--a gain of 29%. Contrary to public perceptions, the potential of wind power is enormous. A U.S. Department of Energy wind resource inventory found that three states--North Dakota, Kansas, and Texas--have enough harnessable wind energy to meet the electricity needs for the whole country.

In the Great Plains, where an acre of range-land produces only $20 worth of beef a year or where an acre in wheat may yield $120 worth of grain, the attraction of wind power is obvious. For ranchers with prime wind sites, income from wind could easily exceed that from cattle sales. And the turbines scattered across a farm or ranch do not interfere with the use of the land for farming or cattle grazing.

Another attraction is that much of the income generated stays in the local community, since a single large wind turbine can generate $100,000 or more worth of electricity per year, harnessing local wind energy can revitalize rural communities.

Many state governments are taking the initiative. Minnesota is requiring its largest utility to install 425 megawatts of wind-generating capacity by 2002. In Texas, the legislature has set a goal of 2,000 megawatts of generating capacity from renewable sources by 2009, with most of it expected to come from the state's abundant wind power. …

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