How can efficiency and renewables help rural communities?

(ACEEE blog, 15 Jan 2020) Rural communities have distinct energy efficiency and renewable energy needs. While rural residents experience higher energy burdens than their metropolitan counterparts, energy efficiency programs can help offset these burdens.

Renewable energy projects for rural homes, businesses, farms, and institutions can also help keep dollars local and increase rural prosperity.

We will explore these topics and others at ACEEE’s upcoming Rural Energy Conference next month in Chicago, our second convening to examine ways to advance efficiency and renewables in rural America.

To give you a sneak peek, we asked one of our featured speakers, Sarah Mills, to preview her research on the impacts of renewable energy development in rural communities. Mills is a senior project manager at the University of Michigan Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy’s Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP).
How do renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies benefit rural communities?

The primary benefit is economic. Rural property owners who invest in energy efficiency technologies or put renewable energy technologies on their property see savings on their utility bill, just like urban and suburban residents. 

Utility-scale renewable energy systems provide a unique economic opportunity to rural communities. In most states, renewable energy developers pay property taxes that support local government services like road maintenance, schools, libraries, and fire departments. In a rural community with a relatively small tax base, a $100 million wind- or solar- project can mean a huge jump in tax revenues going to the local government.

Landowners who host wind turbines or solar panels on their property receive lease revenue from the energy developer.  While revenue varies across and within states, my research from Michigan finds that landowners who host wind turbines on their property reinvest those dollars into their farms (see table below).  As a result, those lease revenues recirculate many times over within the rural community—to the contractor who is putting in field tile, or the dealership who is selling more tractors, or the lumberyard who is selling materials for new barns.

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ACEEE blog, 15 Jan 2020: How can efficiency and renewables help rural communities?