|By LINDA McGURK
WINCHESTER, Ind. — Environmentalists and representatives from the business world are often at odds when it comes to issues like rural development. But right now, both groups are rallying behind an electric utility scouting east-central Indiana for land suitable for a wind farm. Recently, Indiana Michigan Power (I&M) held two initial meetings for landowners and neighbors in Jay, Randolph and Wayne counties, and the utility was “extremely encouraged by the enthusiasm,” according to I&M spokesperson Mike Brian.
I&M plans to lease farmland to erect two to three 200-foot test towers by next spring. Over the next year or two, the towers will collect wind data, which will determine whether a wind farm is economically feasible. “If everything goes according to schedule, we’ll contact the landowners shortly and work out the specifics,” Brian said.
Texas and Oklahoma have long been recognized as the leading states for wind power, due mainly to their abundance of wide open spaces, whereas Indiana’s potential for wind farms has been considered limited. That could be about to change, according to Brian.
“The technology for wind energy is improving and we can take advantage of that (in Indiana),” he said.
In favorable conditions, wind turbines generate electricity 30-35 percent of the time, but Brian said 25-30 percent for the sites in east-central Indiana would be adequate.
The prospect of a wind farm was well received by farmers in Randolph County, who see the renewable-energy technology as a way to diversify.
“The good thing about wind generators is that they leave a small footprint. The land will still be available for farming,” Brian said. “If a wind farm is built on your land, that’s a steady stream of income. We pay the fee regardless of whether the turbines are generating energy or not.”
Greg Beumer, director of Randolph County Community and Economic Development Foundation, said renewable-energy technology could help revitalize the countryside in Indiana. Randolph County has, like many other rural counties, for years been plagued by dwindling population numbers and high unemployment.
“If we look at the future of agriculture in rural Indiana, I think we need to rethink our strategies. (Wind energy) can provide tangible assets in rural communities and benefit the tax base,” Beumer said. “We’re looking at a diversification of the work force, whether you’re a farmer or you maintain an ethanol plant or a wind turbine. We’re changing the way we’re producing jobs in the future.”
In October, Cardinal Ethanol broke ground for a new 100-million gallon plant in Randolph County. According to Beumer, the $150 million investment was the single largest in the county’s history, but that would be eclipsed by I&M’s proposed wind-farm venture.
The bulk of the electricity in Indiana is generated by coal-burning power plants, which emit greenhouse gases and other air pollutants.
Although the “fuel” for wind energy is free, the irregular nature of it makes it almost twice as expensive to produce, and without federal tax credits wind farms wouldn’t be economically feasible. I&M still considers renewable energy key to meeting future energy needs in Indiana.
“The idea is, too, that we know we’re doing something good for the area. Right now we import energy to Indiana, but if we could generate energy in a non-polluting way, that money would stay in the state,” said Brian.
He added: “Wind energy is good for the local economy, the state, utilities - it’s good for everybody involved.”
This farm news was published in the Jan. 3, 2007 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.