A leader in large-scale community wind project development is making the case that wind turbines on farmland would only take up 1 percent of the land but could double a farmer’s profitability.
In a piece e-mailed to Domestic Fuel, National Wind’s co-founder and co-chair Patrick Pelstring says wind energy doesn’t take up as much room as some people might think and would provide a steady second income without a lot of effort on the part of the landowner:
A rule of thumb regarding wind farm land use is that, while each turbine generally needs a plot of about 100 acres separating it from other turbines, the actual footprint of each turbine is less than one acre. This footprint includes the area surrounding the turbine and all access roads. Therefore, each turbine occupies less than 1% of the open land required by a wind farm, leaving the other 99% of the property available as farmland or pasture.
To examine the impact wind energy can make on a small amount of land, let’s envision a hypothetical farmer, John, who grows corn on 500 acres of land. According to the 2008 Riverland Community College Farm Business Management Annual Report for Southeast Minnesota, the average return per acre of corn from 1999-2008 was $60.13 per acre. A total of 500 acres of corn at $60.13 profit equals $30,065 per year. This is the farmer’s return on labor and management after investing capital, labor, management and taking commodity and weather risks.
Now, imagine that John has five turbines on his farm, occupying five of his cropping acres, leaving him with 495 acres of corn. His farming conditions are the same, so from those acres he’ll make $29,764 in profit, based on the 10 year average profit of $60.13 per acre. But add in the revenue from the turbines–$35,000 total assuming $7,000 per turbine (on the low end of what National Wind pays)–and his total profits increase to $64,764 per year. This would be almost double his profits from growing only corn without turbines. Under National Wind’s community model, the profit structure may be even better if landowners take an ownership stake in a project company and share in the actual profits generated.
Pelstring goes on to make the case that wind turbines can be a good hedge against natural disasters, such as floods in farmland.