Renewable Energy Generates Billions for Rural America

A report published last week by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), an investment research arm of Bloomberg news service, highlights a principle that 25x’25 has been preaching since its origins in 2004: Renewable energy offers farmers, ranchers, forestland owners and rural communities huge income opportunities.

Focusing principally on wind energy, the BNEF analysis says more than $100 billion has been invested by companies in low-income counties, where some 70 percent of the nation’s wind farms are located. Alex Morgan, North American wind energy analyst at BNEF, says that by 2030, rural landowners will receive up to $900 million a year from wind developers for land leases.

The projections from BNEF build off of data released earlier this year by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). The data showed U.S. wind farms currently pay more than $220 million a year to farming families and other rural landowners, and more than $156 million of that is going to landowners in counties with below-average incomes. Those lease payments range from $3,000 to $6,000 per megawatt of installed capacity, along with payments for power line easements, road rights-of-way, or royalties based on the project’s annual revenues.

These payments not only better the lives of farmers, ranchers and forestland owners – in some cases, says AWEA, they allow producers to keep their family farms, giving owners the chance to pass their operations on to the next generation – they also help boost local tax revenues that allow rural counties to renovate roads, build schools and update infrastructure, as well as pay down debt. An Oklahoma State Chamber analysis released last year shows that owners of wind farms will pay some $1 billion in ad valorem taxes over the projects’ 40-year life span.

The solar energy sector also makes massive financial contributions to rural landowners and the counties and states where solar farms are being located. Through June of this year, solar has reached 31.6 gigawatts (GW) of total installed capacity. With more than 1.1 million residential solar installations nationwide and utility-scale solar facilities in the construction pipeline totaling more than 20 GW, the industry is on pace to nearly double in size over 2016.

These solar facilities, including a number being built by an array of electric cooperatives around the country, are pumping more than $15 billion a year into the U.S. economy. The North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association says that landowners in that state are leasing sites for solar farms for $300 to $700 an acre per year, three times the average rent for cropland and pastureland….

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