With a few searches online, you can get a taste of the contentious issue of wind turbines. But wind energy has now become the lowest-cost source of new electricity even without tax incentives. And the additional income generated from wind easements can be significant for landowners. Where is the divide?
Findings cited by the Iowa Environmental Council show how benefits of wind energy add up at the local level:
• Lease or easement payments. By 2020, it’s estimated Iowa landowners will receive more than $43 million in payments.
• Property tax revenue. In counties that have had major wind development, property tax revenue from wind projects is one of the largest sources of such revenue.
• Clean-energy resources. Unlike fossil-fuel-fired power plants, wind turbines do not produce air pollutants, nor do they use water or produce water pollution in the process of generating electricity.
• Local economic development. In 2016, Iowa had between 8,000 and 9,000 jobs supported by the wind industry. Iowa’s wind development has also attracted significant employment in wind manufacturing and businesses in the wind supply chain to communities across the state. Iowa’s supply of low-cost wind energy attracts companies with renewable energy goals to locate new facilities or expand operations in Iowa.
Iowa has more wind in its electricity mix than any other state, with 37% of the generation coming from wind. Iowa ranks third nationally in overall wind power generation capacity and will grow from the current 7,312 to 10,000 megawatts by 2020. This presents a major opportunity for Iowa landowners.
While those are positive statistics, some people are raising reservations and objections to wind turbine projects, citing the following points:
• Change to the landscape. Drive across some parts of the state, it is no longer just farm fields for as far as the eye can see.
• Sound and shadow flicker. Some neighbors to turbines report a low humming from the motor, as well as a shadow flicker due to movement of turbine blades between the sun and property. Research has shown that annoyance related to such effects are strongly related to whether a person is compensated for these impacts.
• Oversubsidized. Some question the fairness of subsidizing wind, although all forms of energy production in the U.S. receive subsidies. Wind is Iowa-produced energy and replaces subsidized coal the state would import from Wyoming and Montana. The federal wind production tax credit is currently phasing out.
• Health impacts. There is concern with the industrial scale of turbines and questions about whether they can impact health. Scientific evidence does not support claims of negative health effects. To help people learn more about potential health impacts, the Iowa Environmental Council published Wind Turbines and Health.
“A very real sentiment, but more difficult to pinpoint, is that these projects are perceived to be brokered by power companies and politicians not living in the local area,” says Mollie Aronowitz, a land manager with Peoples Co. “There is an arm’s length transaction aspect that feeds into a rural vs. urban divide.”
What perhaps is lost in the pros and cons of wind energy is that producing any kind of energy comes at a cost and will impact the environment and people, she adds. “Wind turbines provide clean, renewable, homegrown energy that does not threaten our water or air, and creates good-paying jobs and economic benefits in rural Iowa.”
The Iowa Environmental Council has published Successful County Wind Siting Practices in Iowa, reviewing county ordinance provisions for wind development.
“On the local level, addressing issues such as setbacks, decommissioning schedules and infrastructure impact during construction can be addressed to protect landowners,” she says.
“Peoples Co. land managers are well-versed in the pros and cons of wind turbines, and can be a valuable resource for landowners who have questions,” Aronowitz says. “If you choose to enter a wind turbine contract, we can also help you monitor construction and ensure construction areas are returned to the original condition after installation.”