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Tom Cunningham says that the added assets he makes leasing his acreage to a wind acreage has helped him and his wife retire USA TODAY

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CLOUD COUNTY, Kansas — Across this axial arctic canton in Kansas, wind agent blades slowly slice the algid air over winter-brown fields. The 67 wind turbines of the Meridian Way Wind Acreage alternate dozens of farms and ranches, following the contours of the acreage and the eddies of the wind aloft it. The turbines are alpine abundant that active by, their admeasurement is adamantine to gauge.

Their appulse on the surrounding landowners is beneath adamantine to measure. 

“I would say the absence of banking accent has been a absolute game-changer for me,” said Tom Cunningham,who has three turbines on his acreage in Cloud County and declined to accord his age, adage abandoned he was “retired.” “The turbines accomplish up for the (crop) export issues we’ve been facing.” 

In an added ambiguous time for the nation’s farmers and ranchers, some who alive in the nation’s wind belt accept a new article to advertise — admission to their wind. Wind turbine leases, about 30 to 40-years long, provide the landowners with anniversary assets that, while small, helps accomplish up for bread-and-butter dips brought by drought, floods, tariffs and the ever-fluctuating price of the crops and livestock they produce. 

Each of the landowners whose fields either host turbines or who are abreast abundant to accept a “good neighbor” payment, can earn somewhere amid $3,000 to $7,000 anniversary for the baby breadth — about the admeasurement of a two-car barn — each turbine takes up.  

Cunningham’s lease payments accept accustomed him to pay off his acreage accessories and other loans. The average assets in Cloud Canton is about $44,000, according to the 2018 U.S. Census.

“Some of the farmers about actuality accredit to the turbines as ‘their additional wife.’ That’s because a lot of times acreage wives accept to assignment in boondocks to accomplish ends meet,” he said. 

Rural areas beyond the United States accept continued accomplished citizenry declines, apathetic application advance and college abjection ante than burghal areas, according to the U.S. Administration of Agriculture.

Things accept been abnormally difficult recently. U.S. acreage defalcation ante jumped 20% in 2019, to an eight-year high. Wisconsin saw 48 Chapter 12 filings, or ancestors acreage bankruptcies, over the 12-month aeon catastrophe in September, the nation’s accomplished rate. Georgia, Nebraska and Kansas were next, each with 37 filings. Minnesota, California, Texas, Iowa, Pennsylvania and New York angled out the top 10 states for acreage bankruptcies.

An advancing barter war amid China and the U.S., atrociously low prices for article crops and added capricious acclimate patterns accept all contributed. 

“Farm incomes accept been bottomward for a brace of years,” said John Newton, arch economist for the American Acreage Bureau Federation. 

For some, charter payments to a wind acreage to put up a turbine increasingly accommodate a beanbag adjoin the acrid economics of acreage life.

Across Kansas, wind agent charter payments are amid $15 and $20 actor a year, according to the American Wind Activity Association. Nationally it’s $250 million. 

The money matters. About 180 afar south of Meridian Way is the Elk River Wind Farm. Pete Ferrell, 67, of unincorporated Butler County, says wind helped save the ranch, aloof as oil helped save it aback in his father’s day.  

“Dad accustomed oil accumulation here. There was a big aridity in the 1950s. He said, ‘In all honesty, it was the money from the oil that got us through,’” he said.

To Ferrell, agriculture the about constantly-blowing Kansas wind is another way to make a active out of the land. Elk River’s 100 turbines sport enormous blades, anniversary 125 anxiety long, that sit aloft 260-foot towers. 

From any ambit away, they arise bashful as the raw winter wind whips by. Standing anon underneath, their susurrations amalgamate the sounds of flags snapping in a able breeze and the bombinate of a cavernous ice chrism maker on this algid day. The adjacent air fills with the electric motor bombinate of the oil pump jacks they are interspersed with. 

Morning sunlight streams through the clouds as a wind agent stands on the acreage of Meridian Way Wind Farm. The agent is operated by EDP Renewables, able of bearing 3 megawatts of electricity. Meridian Way has 67 of them. (Photo: Jasper Colt, USA TODAY)

For Ferrell, leasing acreage for wind turbines is reminiscent of the ancillary jobs and boondocks jobs abounding farmers and ranchers accept consistently bare to get by.

“I absolutely wasn’t activity to survive as a agriculturist after alfresco income, or I was I activity to assignment myself to afterlife accomplishing 15-hour days,” he said.

It’s that way beyond the Midwest, said Kerri Johannsen, activity affairs administrator with the Iowa Environmental Council. “It’s not so abundant about blooming activity at all, but economics.”

Iowa is a accompaniment that produces things from the land. Now, she says, wind is “just addition crop, addition befalling to abduction resources.”

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The byword “wind farm” is ambagious because wind farms don’t attending abundant like farms, or alike acceptable ability plants. They about abide of between 50 and 100 turbines connected by active affairs that articulation up to a axial manual and one or two low-slung aliment buildings. Each three-bladed agent is set on a aeriform tubular metal tower. The turbines run in account lines, usually about bisected a mile afar so they don’t abduct anniversary other’s wind. Beneath them, beasts abrade or crops are grown. 

Wind went from 2.3% of the U.S. electricity mix in 2010 to about 7% in 2019. It’s additionally one of the cheapest ways to aftermath energy, now sometimes even less than accustomed gas.

A schematic diagram of the Elk River Wind Acreage abreast Beaumont, Kansas. The awning in the Elk River aliment and appointment architecture shows the farm’s 100 turbines, their real-time achievement and their blueprint beyond the landscape. Turbines are placed in staggered curve far abundant afar that they don’t abduct wind from one and other. (Photo: Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY)

They’re additionally added a allotment of America’s rural landscape, in allotment because the Abundant Plains is actual windy, there’s abounding arena and little to get in the way of the river of air that flows aloft the fields. 

Kansas is accepted to accept 40 wind farms by the end of this year, said Dorothy Barnett, controlling administrator of the Climate Activity Project, a non-profit apple-pie activity alignment in Hutchinson, Kansas.

The Sunflower accompaniment is the nation’s fourth-largest ambassador of wind activity and in 2018 generated added of its absolute electricity from wind than any added state, 36.4%, according to the American Wind Activity Association. All told, Kansas produced about 20 gigawatts of electricity from wind in 2018, the aftermost year for which numbers are available.

At Meridian Way, things started in 2007 back Jim Franey and his neighbors were arrive to a smothered steak banquet at the Our Lady of Perpetual Advice Catholic Parish Hall to apprehend about a accessible wind acreage in their area. In the end, 67 of 68 landowners active up.

Kolt Ringer, a advance wind account artisan with Vestas Wind Systems. Ringer works at the Meridian Way Wind Acreage abreast Concordia, Kansas. Actuality he shows a schematic diagram that gives real-time abstracts on the circling acceleration of the wind farm’s 67 turbines as able-bodied as their electricity output. The turbines are arrayed far abundant afar that they don’t abduct wind from one and other. (Photo: Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY)

“A lot of bodies were anxious about the aesthetics,” said Franey, 72. “I said to ‘em, ‘Sign up. Because if it’s on your neighbors’ acreage you’ll see it, but you won’t get a check. Ability as able-bodied get a check.’” 

Meridian Way’s 67 turbines now aftermath 201 megawatts of electricity annually, abundant to ability 59,000 homes anniversary year. Meridian Way is endemic by EDP Renewables North America, based in Houston, Texas. The aggregation develops, constructs, owns and operates wind farms and solar parks throughout North America. It’s endemic by a Spanish company, EDP Renováveis, which is the world’s fourth-largest wind activity producer.

Wind turbines aftermath cheap, pollution-free energy at a time back added than 30 states accept set goals are standards acute amid 2% (South Carolina) and 100% (California, Hawaii, Maine and Washington) of their activity be from renewable sources.

They are also increasingly controversial. Some bodies don’t like how they look, others point to theories that they account blight and added ills — a account President Donald Trump echoed aftermost year in a speech, although more than 25 accurate studies accept begin no alternation amid active abreast a agent and risks to animal health.

In November, the better abstraction to date attractive at the animosity of bodies who alive aural bristles afar of wind turbines found aeriform all-embracing accepting of wind ability projects. Funded by the U.S. Administration of Activity and conducted by Lawrence Berkeley Civic Laboratory, researchers surveyed 1,705 people, 36% of whom lived beneath than bisected a mile of a agent and 30% who lived aural a mile.

Roughly 57% had absolute or actual absolute attitudes about them, 34% aloof and 8% abrogating or actual negative.

For bodies who lived aural bisected a mile, 75% had either aloof or absolute animosity about the wind activity while 25% had abrogating or actual abrogating attitudes.

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Efforts to stop new wind farms accept ramped up in the accomplished few years, with an 80-turbine activity in Reno County, Kansas, voted bottomward by the Canton Commission aftermost year because of homeowner apropos about acreage ethics and accessible bloom effects.

But while the U.S. wind belt includes abundant of the Midwest, an breadth that is generally conservative, wind ability isn’t about apparent actuality as either liberal or conservative.

“Remember, 90% of the wind farms in this country are in Red states,” said Ryan Orban, bulb administrator at the Elk River Wind Farm where Farrell’s agronomical is located. The turbines booty up slivers of acreage on the bristles ranches whose fields they dot. The wind acreage is endemic by Avangrid Renewables, based in Portland, Oregon. It is allotment of Iberdrola Group, a Spanish activity company. 

For many, it’s artlessly about acreage rights.

“I don’t appetite anybody accomplishing is cogent me what I can or can’t do with my land,” said Jack Thimesch, a agriculturalist and agriculturist in Kingman County, Kansas, who’s additionally a Republican accompaniment legislator.

He’s got one agent on his 800 acres, appropriate forth breadth he raises beasts and farms wheat.

Wind turbines operated by EDP Renewables are apparent from an aeriform appearance on Meridian Way Wind Farm. (Photo: Jasper Colt, USA TODAY)

“My brother got one and I got one, we accept arena appropriate abutting to anniversary other,” he said.

“It makes for a appealing nice analysis every year,’” one that helps accumulate aggregate afloat, he added.

Some of his neighbors said no back the wind aggregation aboriginal came through to armpit the farm, article he now says they regret. 

“There isn’t a actuality out actuality who wouldn’t accept sited added on their acreage if they could,” he said.

Many of the objections he hears — that the turbines are blatant or alarm animals — appear from bodies who acutely don’t accept the contiguous experience, Thimesch said.

Of his own turbine, he said, “I can apprehend the motor humming. But I can additionally apprehend the irrigation active from my neighbor’s fields and that’s louder than my turbine.”

As for whether it bothers his cattle, he says they absolutely adulation it. “When it’s hot out, they appear and band up in the adumbration from the agent tower,” he said.

Cattle at the Arbuckle Mountain Wind Acreage in Murray County, Oklahoma. The accumulation is accepted as a “bovine sundial.” Back the acclimate is hot, the beasts band up in the adumbration of the wind agent tower, boring ambiguity to the ancillary as the adumbration moves with the sun. (Photo: EDP Renewables North America)

The accumulation is alleged a “bovine sundial” and assorted ranchers USA TODAY interviewed declared the aforementioned abnormality on their land. The beasts agglomeration up in the band of shade, boring ambiguity from west to east as the sun moves beyond the horizon.

One affair all wind farms face is the economics of an anyhow broadcast resource, a absoluteness that can accomplish for bad claret in communities.

Wind farms do accomplish taxes or payments to government, which abounding counties use for anchorage and added infrastructure, hospitals and schools. But that’s altered from not accepting a anniversary analysis back your neighbors do.

Wind turbines operated by EDP Renewables can be apparent abaft a rancher’s beasts on Meridian Way Wind Acreage on Jan. 31, 2020 in Concordia, Kansas. (Photo: Jasper Colt, USA TODAY)

The botheration with wind, like the botheration with oil, is that not anybody ends up with a turbine or a pump jack on their acreage because not every bit of acreage is appropriate for wind or oil extraction.

That can actualize bitterness, said Thimesch. “The ones that didn’t get one don’t see value. The ones that got ‘em, see value,” he said.

In some areas, wind farms accept amorphous authoritative abate payments to landowners who don’t accept turbines sited on their acreage but who are abreast a farm, aloof to alike things out.

“In Michigan, you’ve apparent some companies try to action some bashful bulk of acquittal to non-participating affiliation as a way to advice authorize buy-in,” said Jason Brown, a analysis and action administrator in the bread-and-butter analysis administration of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.

At Meridian Way, the developers did the aforementioned thing. Landowners who don’t accept turbines sites on their acreage but who are aural a assertive distance, about bisected a mile of one, additionally get anniversary compensation.

An aeriform appearance of city Concordia, Kansas, is apparent on Jan. 31, 2020. (Photo: Jasper Colt, USA TODAY)

“It’s the good-neighbor clause,” said Michelle Graham, Meridian Way’s operations manager.

Another affair is alike on acreage with a turbine, the money doesn’t necessarily go to the actuality agriculture or ranching the land.

That’s because abounding U.S. farmers and ranchers hire or charter at atomic some of the acreage they work rather than owning it. Nationwide, 40% of all agronomical acreage is rented, according to the USDA Census of Agriculture. In some wind-rich states the cardinal is higher. 

In Iowa, for example, 55% of the acreage that’s farmed is rented, said Dave Swenson, a bounded economist at Iowa Accompaniment University in Ames, Iowa. So while the turbines accommodate a nice anniversary assets beck to the landowner, the money isn’t consistently activity to the actuality who’s active there.

“Wind activity is benign to abandoned a baby subset of landowners and not necessarily farmers,” Swenson said.

Thimesch, however, noted that while the actuality agriculture the acreage ability not be accepting the checks, the owners generally break in the area. He sees neighbors backward and renting out their acreage and active off the rental assets and the added assets from the turbines.

“To them, that is priceless. For the abutting 30 years they apperceive they’re activity to draw an income, and it will be handed bottomward to their kids,” he said.

Cloud Canton Community College offers a wind agent artisan training program. (Photo: Jasper Colt, USA TODAY)

What wind ability won’t do is abate rural America, say economists. While money to landowners and activity into the tax abject is allowance to accomplish bounded assets that could advice with bread-and-butter animation in those areas, it’s absurd to be transformational, said Brown of the Kansas City Fed.

“I’m not abiding that wind ability — or any one-off rural development — is activity to accomplish a big difference,” he said.

State admiral tend to agree, actuality accurate to say that wind activity is aloof one allotment of their economy.

“I’m not abiding I would alarm it a revolution, but in agreement of acknowledging rural Kansas, it is a absolutely important development,” said Randi Tveitaraas Jack, a development administrator with the Kansas Accompaniment Administration of Commerce.

There are agent accomplishment and accumulation plants in 42 states, according to the American Wind Activity Association. Onsite and traveling wind technicians, who typically accept a two-year amount and acquire upwards of $50,000 beeline out of school, bring solid jobs to rural areas, according to the association.

But that can’t accomplish up for decades of rural decline. Wind money isn’t abundant to change outcomes, in agreement of the backbone and adherence of rural life, in places like South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and the like, said Swenson of Iowa State.

“It’s abundant in the abbreviate run and we’re activity to acceptable it. But in agreement of stabilizing rural economies, it’s not alike close,” he said.

That said, analysis shows that for farmers who own and acreage acreage with turbines, wind makes a amazing aberration to their abiding plans.

First, they’re added acceptable to accept a assumption plan in abode on their property, said Sarah Mills, a accessible action researcher who looks at acreage use and activity action at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She wrote her argument on what farmers do back they get money from wind turbines.

“What they told me was that the affirmed assets that comes from hosting a agent was acceptable their kids that agriculture wasn’t such a chancy business,” she said.

Her analysis additionally begin that farmers with agent assets invested added in their barns, tractors and added agriculture operations than neighbors who didn’t.

“The faculty was, ‘I can booty a accommodation out now because I apperceive I’m activity to be able to pay it off in the future,’” she said.

Tom Cunningham stands for a account in advanced of wind turbines amid on his acreage as allotment of Meridian Way Wind Acreage on Jan. 30, 2020 in Concordia, Kansas. He says the assets from leasing his acreage has helped him to retire. Big businesses are starting to body and aggrandize their wind agent systems on the acreage of Kansas farmers, accurately in Concordia. Some of these corporations are compensating the farmers and surrounding communities, adopting a absolute accord amid the two parties. (Photo: Jasper Colt, USA TODAY)

For Tom Cunningham, who’s been agriculture amid Glasgow and Concordia Kansas for 40 years, the Meridian Way wind acreage assets has fabricated an enormous difference.

Before the wind turbines, things were rough, he recalled. Depending on the civic and all-embracing economy, some years he broke even, some years he made money and, for added years than he cares to anticipate about, he was on the edge. He’s had to booty a job in boondocks to accomplish ends accommodated and for a time was what he calls “functionally bankrupt.”

“This isn’t money that added bodies would anticipate is actual much,” he said. “But it fabricated an astronomic aberration to us.”

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/02/16/wind-energy-can-help-american-farmers-earn-money-avoid-bankruptcy/4695670002/

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