Hardin County Farmers Deserve Wind Energy Choice

By: 
Ray Gaesser
Chair, Iowa Conservative Energy Forum

The economic benefit of wind energy has never been more important to rural Iowa as it has been through the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing trade wars. But rural landowners in Hardin County are now at risk of missing out on this critical economic opportunity.

The Hardin County Board of Supervisors is currently considering a wind siting ordinance that will effectively ban wind energy development in the county, eliminating opportunity for landowners and taking away millions of dollars in potential revenue for the county.

As a farmer myself, I know firsthand how Iowa farmers have been impacted by crumbling ag markets from ongoing trade wars. I’m also proud to serve as chair of the Iowa Conservative Energy Forum and urge the supervisors to reconsider their stance because their citizens deserve the economic opportunity created by wind development.

Wind energy is an economic success story for Iowa, and Hardin County can’t afford to be left out. Wind energy provides $61 million in local tax revenue, which helps fund critical infrastructure needs like schools, roads and bridges. Wind energy is also creating new jobs in rural Iowa where formerly job opportunities were disappearing. Nearly 10,000 people are currently employed in Iowa’s wind industry, which includes robust supply chain and manufacturing industries.

Perhaps most important during these uncertain economic times, rural landowners are receiving $69 million annually in land lease payments thanks to wind energy development. This consistent source of income will help many farmers and landowners weather crises like the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Hardin County currently is experiencing a budget deficit, neighboring counties have seen an increase in tax revenue thanks to wind energy development. During the spring of 2018, Grundy, Hardin, and many counties in Iowa suffered terrible road conditions from record flooding. Grundy County was able to meet the needs of its citizens promptly because of their extra wind energy revenue, and is primed to respond quickly to future natural disasters and needed improvement projects.

Neighboring counties like Grundy County created ordinances that hold developers accountable for roads and land improvements when developing in the area. More often than not, roads and land were left in better shape after developments than before because their ordinance required their repair or infrastructure when developing. For projects in their county, improvements were made at the expense of MidAmerican Energy instead of the expense of the taxpayer.

Grundy County also included language in its ordinance to protect natural resources. A top concern cited in Hardin County is their many drainage districts in the county, but these can be protected and maintained at the expense of the developer by holding them accountable with proper language.

The Board may believe their proposed ordinance includes built-in relief for citizens who want to host a developer on their land. However, this variance / special use practice – should be in special cases. As the ordinance is written, this process would have to be used for nearly every case. Developers will simply skip Hardin County because they won’t want to navigate the red tape for every case.

Good public policy set the framework for our state to diversify its energy generation, which has kept Iowa energy costs below the national average, created jobs in rural Iowa, reduced our dependence on imported energy sources, increased county and city revenue for rural communities.

I respectfully ask the Hardin County Board of Supervisors to revisit its proposed ordinance and consider a setback than enables its taxpayers and landowners to benefit from the power of the wind. The future is now, the county and its citizens can’t risk losing the opportunity presented by wind energy.

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