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Community Wind a Big Opportunity for Rural America

Community Wind a Big Opportunity for Rural America

Date: 2/26/2008

Source: Stacia Cudd, National Association of Farm Broadcasting News Service

Audio with Dan Nagengast (nag-en-gas-t), Director of the Kansas Rural Center (MP3 1.6 MB) Download Windows Media Player. Time: 00:03:25.

Through the promotion of sustainable farming methods, the Kansas Rural Center has shown a commitment to economically viable, environmentally sound and socially sustainable rural culture for the last 28 years. Director Dan Nagengast says the Center envisions a future of family farms, revitalized communities and a healthy environment.

Over the years, Nagengast says the Center has worked on a number of water quality and grazing projects. More recently, he says the Center's dealing in the area of energy — including wind energy.

"There's been a big change in agriculture and we've probably raised more commodities than we have ever in the history of Kansas, and yet there are few actual ag-related jobs here. Um, wind energy's a natural resource that we cussed for 150 years. As energy's become an issue in the world, suddenly we've started to look at ways that we can capture that additional natural resource, and how that might be a source of profit for rural areas."

Right now, Nagengast says Kansas is home to three or four large wind arrays. But in those instances, he says rural Kansans aren't the beneficiaries. Instead, he says private developers from foreign countries are reaping the benefits of the state's wind resource. That's why Nagengast supports community wind — where the community has a substantial stake in the project and shares directly in the benefits of producing wind.

"The economic impact for locally-owned is somewhere between six and 10 times, there've been two studies, one federal and one in Minnesota. So, if you had 100 megawatts of locally-owned wind, that's the equivalent economic impact of 1000 megawatts of these large arrays. So small numbers of community wind can rapidly have a very large impact on the rural economy and I think that's where we need to get."

Nagengast says communities throughout rural America benefit from locally-owned towers. He says that includes those towers owned by schools through the Wind for Schools program.

"This project gives the schools a chance to erect a small turbine, start collecting data streams and start understanding how that and other sources of renewable energy might hold a future for them either as an owner, or technician, or an engineer or something of that nature. I think as we get away from fossil fuels toward renewables, there's this whole raft of interesting engineering projects and possibilities that are going to come up and I think our children are going to be working on those."

School wind projects are installed or planned in 29 states across the U.S. In Kansas, Nagengast says the response has been overwhelming — with 70 schools expressing interest in 2007. He says it's just one example of how rural Americans can take advantage of this opportunity to produce energy.

"There's an opportunity there for ownership to be disbursed in lots of counties among lots of people with the economic impact flowing primarily there. And that of course is farmers and ranchland and those sorts of things. The more that you can take responsibility in terms of financing, owning it and even managing it, the higher the reward."

According to Nagengast, the possibilities for wind energy development in Kansas are ridiculous. In fact, he says Kansas ranks third in the nation in wind development potential. But when it comes to actual wind development — the state is 12th. He says that's something that needs to change.

This information was last updated on February 26, 2008