Wind power helps a North Dakota community thrive
It’s easy to take our agricultural community for granted. Most Americans live far removed from their food sources, and out of sight can mean out of mind.
But the people who feed the country don’t have it easy. Farmers and ranchers across the U.S. often face challenges beyond their control—from too much rain to too little, or commodity prices that fluctuate wildly, throwing the economics of their operations off balance.
Fortunately, many of them are now harvesting a new drought-resistant cash crop: wind power.
There are nearly 50,000 wind turbines in the U.S. today, and most of them are on lands owned by farmers and ranchers. In return, landowners received $222 million in lease payments in 2015 alone. These payments can help stabilize operations, providing resources needed for upgrades or acting as a bridge during lean years. For many families, wind turbine lease payments are the difference between selling off their land and passing it on to the next generation.
David Day is about to join the wind-farming movement. His family has been ranching on the North Dakota prairie since the early 1880’s, before the territory became a state. A wind farm is currently under construction in his community, and several of the turbines will be located on David’s ranch. His family is looking forward to the steady income they’ll provide.
In David’s home state of North Dakota, lease payments can reach $10 million every year. By 2030, they could exceed $15 million.
David recently spoke with the Farm Radio Association, talking about what he’s learned about wind power and what the soon-to-be wind farm will mean for his ranch’s operations. Here are some excerpts from that conversation.
On what the project will mean for his farm and his community:
“In our particular case we won’t have to worry about being able to pass the ranch down for generations. So for the economic benefits for our area, it’s huge for us because it’s going to ensure our lifestyle and the way we want to do things.”
“Everybody is getting excited about it now, because it isn’t just a paycheck. For older people, now I have a retirement deal that I can look at, that I can go travel, I can do this. For the more middle-aged ranchers, that have got children coming up to it, it’s a security net for us to look at it and, go like we can do the upgrades that we need on the ranch now and still secure our future for our children.”
On jobs coming to his community:
“For local jobs, a project our size, they say there will be five to six permanent technicians working on these towers for the maintenance end of them. They’re going to be out here spending their money in our community. And of course when we go to build the project, there’s going to be 200 people here for a year and a half. That’s going to be a huge economic thing for the area.”
How the wind project aligns with the Day family history:
“Before electricity came into this part of the country back in the 50’s, we’ve always had an extensive cattle ranch here. We pumped many, many thousands of gallons of water with windmills. When I was a kid growing up, we had a dozen of them on the ranch. Now with electricity coming through and when it got cheaper to run power lines over, for a while they just would just run a power line over for you to hook up and they had a minimum charge a year to pump water, that made it much easier for us. So we’ve always seen windmills per se on the prairie, but now understandably these are a lot bigger, but our family has always been progressive. We used to have a wind charger in the yard for electricity for the house before the (Rural Electrification Act) came through. I think my forefathers would be very happy with how everything has progressed, from when they were doing it in the 20’s and 30’s until now, 100 years later.”