A recent study conducted by Purdue University researchers shows innovations in wind power technologies make more land in Indiana economically viable for house utility-scale wind farms. The study, titled An Examination of the Community Level Dynamics Related to the Introduction of Wind Energy in Indiana, analyzed areas where wind farm projects have and have not been located and examined the socio-economic conditions in those areas as a result.
Dr. Russell Hillberry, professor of agricultural economics at Purdue, says wind turbines are becoming more technologically sophisticated and also getting taller, which contributes to the viability of land throughout the state.
“The earlier generation of turbines were only viable in the area around Benton and White County but now, much of northern Indiana can, theoretically at least, host wind energy,” said Hillberry. “That means that many counties now face this as a choice, whether to allow this or not, and most Indiana counties that have faced this choice have decided not to do it, although they’ve often kind of done it in a sort of regulatory way; rather than just make a decision, they have limited the height of structures that are allowed or something like this.”
The study was conducted by a multidisciplinary team from Purdue Extension Community Development, the Purdue Center for Regional Development and the Purdue Department of Agricultural Economics.
In addition to the viability of the land, Hillberry says the study also examined the benefits of wind farms beyond those for the people who maintain the farms and the land owners.
“We were also interested in how the rest of the community benefit. The best way to understand the benefit is just the tax dollars that are paid, as well as other payments that the industry is making to the local governments and those can be quite substantial.”
The study found Benton County received $4.3 million in property tax revenue from wind turbines, or nearly $500 per resident, in 2019. White County received $2.3 million, or $94 per resident. The study says much of the increased revenue from the property taxes was used to reduce the property tax burden on land in the same townships as the turbines.
Hillberry says he believes the main opposition to building more wind farms in many Hoosier communities comes from people who live near the turbines but think they may not be compensated as much.
“I think the issue is really how we solve that problem that a few people that are near the turbines feel very aggrieved by them, but there are these very large benefits to the rest of the community and how should those be balanced, I think, is the main issue,” said Hillberry.
In addition to growth in technology and height for the turbines, Hillberry says wind farms are able to produce energy in a cost-effective way, which is contributing to the growth of wind energy in Indiana and around the country.
“You can buy 30 years of energy from a particular wind farm at the same price; you know what the price is going to be for 30 years,” said Hillberry. “If you try and buy from an electricity generation source that has fuel, then the price of electricity depends on what the price of that fuel is and so you don’t know what it’s going to be. But (with) wind energy, they’ll sell you a contract for 30 years if you’re a big, industrial customer and that makes it feasible and competitive with other sources of energy.”
Hillberry says the goal of the study was to make the information easily understandable and available, particularly for those who are hesitant to pull the trigger on wind farms. He said they also wanted to better understand how counties come to the decision of whether or not to allow wind, but because of the pandemic, it became more difficult or impossible to do focus groups and interviews in person.
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Hillberry says the study focused on how more Hoosier land can be used for wind farms.
Hillberry explains some of the reasons why communities might be hesitant to invest in wind farms.