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As rural economy struggles, wind power provides critical help

As rural economy struggles, wind power provides critical help

A recent story from The Wall Street Journal (“Population Leaves Heartland Behind,” April 11) highlights the problem: according to the 2010 census, many U.S. counties, particularly in the rural Plains states, suffered population declines during the past decade.

Notes the article, by WSJ's Conor Dougherty, “Such findings come as no surprise to Robert Knudson, city manager of Belleville, Kan. Over the decade, the county surrounding Belleville lost 855 people—15% of its population—and has been tearing down empty homes in recent years. Mr. Knudson is typical of many residents in his home town: His two adult children live in Wichita, a two-and-a-half hour drive away.

“'We were producing children for the jobs we couldn't support,' Mr. Knudson said.”

As it happens, wind power is ideally suited to help address this problem, by providing short-term construction jobs, long-term skilled operations and maintenance (O&M) jobs, rental payments to farmers and ranchers, and property tax income to rural counties.

Let's break down the numbers. According to a map accompanying the article in the print edition, the following windy states are among those with numerous counties losing population: Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Texas and Iowa.

According to AWEA's recently released Annual Market Report, those eight states currently have nearly 19,000 megawatts (MW) of wind power generating capacity installed, nearly half the nation's total of just over 40,000 MW and enough to power the equivalent of five million homes.

Those same 19,000 MW, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, will provide

– $1.36 million per megawatt (or a total of roughly $26 billion) over 20 years (a typical wind project's lifetime) in local economic development benefits and

– 21 long-term jobs per 100 MW (or a total of nearly 4,000 jobs)–in areas of the country that need it most.

It's hard to overstate the value of this kind of an economic shot in the arm. For some real-life, on-the-ground, first-person stories of the difference wind power is making today in people's lives, see the short videos, like the one describing Elliot Thorbrogger's experience, on our PowerofWind.com website.

Furthermore, to date we have only scratched the surface of wind power's development potential. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the total wind potential of those same eight states is roughly 7 million megawatts, or about 370 times as much as the amount they have currently installed.

The handwriting on the wall is as plain as the census numbers: clean, affordable, homegrown wind power can be the salvation of many of America's rural counties and regions.

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