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One County, 646 Wind Turbines: Electricity an Exported Commodity

One County, 646 Wind Turbines: Electricity an Exported Commodity

Date: 12/10/2008

Location: IN

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

Audio with Jimmy Bricker, Purdue Extension Director in Benson County, Indiana (MP3 3.0 MB) Download Windows Media Player. Time: 00:03:14.

Indiana is a coal state — and according to Purdue Extension Director in Benton County Jimmy Bricker — it will probably remain that way for some time.

"Here in Indiana, because of the clean coal and the cheap coal, or cheaper coal, we pay about 8.1-cents per kilowatt hour at our houses and farms."

But largely due to Bricker's own efforts, wind development is now growing in popularity. And while Indiana doesn't have the most wind potential in the nation — ranking just 44th — existing projects produce 130.5 megawatts of electricity. Every bit of that is coming from Benton county, but Bricker says it's all being exported.

"This wind energy is being marketed into higher price markets, like our neighbors and in the northeast where those people are paying about 12.5-cents per kilowatt hour. The other thing too, those communities that have renewable energy portfolio standards are forced to purchase a certain percentage of green energy by a certain year. But these wind turbines are not attractive to everybody, so in order for them to meet that requirement, they have to get it somewhere, and we're the somewhere. So we don't only export soybeans and corn out of Benton County, we are now exporting electricity."

That's how the county has overcome resistance to the costs associated with wind development. Bricker says selling electricity to other states helps developers offset their costs. So now when Bricker visits rural Indiana — (he's talked to over 50 Indiana communities since the first of the year and delivered the wind message to more than three-thousand people) — he says the biggest question about wind development is, "how do we get it in our county?"

"They're looking at it primarily from the standpoint of what did it bring into this county from a rural development standpoint. We have 370 landowners that have signed land leases with the two developments that we have going on in this county. The annual lease statements to those 370 landowners is going to be over two-million dollars a year. We also, from the county perspective, gave tax abatements to the two developments, and over the course of five years their payment in lieu of taxes to the county is over five-million. So it's been a fairly prosperous activity for us to embrace."

But to get to this point, Bricker says there were other challenges to overcome as well.

"When we started looking at our first development in 2004, you had your typical resistance: they kill birds, they kill bats, they're noisy, they're dangerous and the flicker rate drives me crazy, makes me ill, etcetera. When I bring people out and they look at the technology that we have, it's a totally different story. It's difficult to hear these turbines. The blades only turn at 15 RPM, compared to 60 RPM on some of the ones out in California that most people have seen. These machines are considerably different and quite a bit more people friendly. So I think a lot of that opposition that we had to cope with for about two years here when we were getting started in this business has dissipated."

And today 646 wind turbines are approved and under construction in Benton county alone. The projects under construction will add more than 400-megawatts of power to Indiana's existing capacity.

This information was last updated on December 10, 2008