wind energy

Does Wind Cool a Hot Housing Market, or are Wind Farm Worries Overblown?

For most of us, buying a home is the most financially consequential decision we make. So it makes sense to protect that investment—and find out how major developments in the neighborhood will affect our most valuable asset.

Traditionally, three factors have an outsized impact on home values: strength of the local economy, low taxes, and access to good schools. For rural communities that may go years between major investments, the arrival of a wind farm has large benefits in all three areas.

Over 99 percent of wind power projects are built in rural America and on private land. That means project owners lease small segments of property from large landowners—usually farmers and ranchers. The concrete pads on which they build wind turbines, and the gravel lanes to reach them, typically leave 98 percent of the land undisturbed and available for other uses, such as crops, livestock, hunting, and off-road vehicles.

And the checks start arriving for thousands of dollars per turbine per year.

Those lease payments can really add up: in 2016 alone they totaled $245 million across America, a figure that is steadily rising. That creates a steady source of income for landowners, as well as a new tax base that agricultural communities can count on. It’s especially meaningful during years of drought, poor harvests, or crashes in commodity prices. In fact, many farmers call wind their new drought-proof cash crop.

“It will not change how we operate, it will not change anything about our lives. But it will be an additional income stream that I suspect will be very handy,” said John Dudley, whose family has been ranching in Comanche, Texas, since the 1880’s. “It’ll allow [our] family to have that ranch for a long time.”

Dr. Sarah Mills of the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy recently examined the concrete benefits of wind income for Michigan farmers. Among her findings:

  • Farmers with turbines on their land have invested twice as much in their operations over the last five years as those without them.
  • Turbine-hosting farmers have purchased more farmland in the last five years than non-hosts.
  • Farmers with turbines are more likely to believe their property will be farmed in the future, and they’re more likely to have a succession plan in place for when they retire.

Crucially, Mills also found that landowners with wind turbines spent significantly more on improving their homes and farms.

Beyond income for farmers and ranchers, wind projects also create jobs in the local community. Wind turbine technicians, one of America’s two fastest growing jobs according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, are needed to operate and maintain projects. That offers new career opportunities for young people.

It also helps small businesses thrive, another key component in keeping local economies healthy. For example, Auxilius Heavy Industries, based in Fowler, Indiana, performs services for many of the area’s local wind farms. The company has been able to double in size each of the four years since its founding.

Community members don’t need to work in wind or host turbines on their land to realize its benefits, however. Because they are usually built in rural areas with low tax bases, wind farms often become a county’s largest taxpayer. That boosts local budgets and can help pay to fix roads or build new hospitals, without having to raise taxes. In fact, in some communities, wind revenue renders local taxes totally unnecessary. In Sheldon, New York, for example, the town abolished local taxes for eight years because wind revenue covered all of its budgetary needs.

Wind’s extra revenue also strengthens the third pillar of home valuation: access to a strong school system. New financial resources from wind allow rural school districts to offer services they otherwise would not be able to.

“Oh my gosh, it’s been a game changer for us,” said Jeff Synder, superintendent of the Lincolnview school district in Van Wert, Ohio. “Now we have the windmill money opportunity, we have $400,000 per year for 20 [years]. I didn’t have to pass one levy, ask [our taxpayers] for anything.”

The Lincolnview school district was able to provide every student grade K through 12 with a laptop, and fully fund the repair and replacement program. In New York, the Lowville school district used wind revenue to build a new athletic field and offer advanced placement courses, and it has a swim team called The Turbines. In fact, students from the Lowville district perform so well on standardized tests, compared to areas with similarly low average family income, that researchers from Syracuse University are now studying Lowville to see what makes it so successful. The added programs funded by wind surely play a role in the system’s success.

For those concerned about the impacts of wind farms on property values, the evidence shows there is no cause for concern — long-term, comprehensive studies show wind power doesn’t affect property values. In 2014, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) along with University of Connecticut examined 122,000 home sales near 26 wind facilities in densely populated Massachusetts between 1998 and 2012, comparing transactions within a half-mile (1,500 of the sales) to similar transactions up to five miles away. Based on a detailed analysis the researchers were unable to uncover any impacts to nearby home property values.

LBNL has conducted two other major studies on this topic (in 2009 and 2013), and in all cases, found no statistical evidence that operating wind turbines have had any measurable impact on home sales prices. As an author of the 2009 report stated “Neither the view of wind energy facilities nor the distance of the home to those facilities was found to have any consistent, measurable, and significant effect on the selling prices of nearby homes.”

“Wind is a lucrative, sustainable ‘crop’ for our farmers and entire community,” said Susan Munroe, president and CEO of Van Wert County’s Chamber of Commerce. “We hope to continue to harvest wind to not only build economic success for our county but provide sustainable, renewable energy for our state.”

About the Author: Greg Alvarez is the Deputy Director, External Communications, for the American Wind Energy Association.