Farmer-Owned Wind Turbines Go Online

The Wolf Family, farming for generations in Southwestern Minnesota near Worthington, flipped the switch on five wind turbines at a special USDA event on Monday. The Wolf Wind project will boost rural income, create jobs and generate enough locally owned clean electricity to power as many as 5,000 homes.

However, the federal farm program that made this tremendous economic opportunity happen is slated for a major funding reduction in the President’s budget bill. The President’s budget for FY2007 recommends slashing this program by more than 50%, from $23 million per year nationwide, to only $10.2 million, according to the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC). The ELPC says these cuts come at a time of increasing need for clean renewable energy and rural development and that the President’s cuts would reduce the opportunity for others to benefit from this increasingly popular program. Applications in 2005 reached an all time high of 388 last year, but funding only allowed awards to 150 farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses. “The Farm Bill clean energy programs have only begun to tap the potential for rural economic development, clean energy supply and increased energy security,” said Andy Olsen, Policy Advocate for the ELPC. “We need consistent support for these programs to realize their potential.” The Farm Bill Renewable Energy grant program (Section 9006) was created in the 2002 Farm Bill. Section 9006 has provided over $60 million over three years for more than 400 projects across the country for wind, solar, biomass, biofuels, and energy efficiency projects. It has leveraged hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment in rural America. Minnesota has led the nation under the program, receiving $14 million over the first three years. The 1st Congressional District where the Wolf family resides (represented by Congressman Gil Gutknecht) has received the most, obtaining more than 60% of all of Minnesota’s grants. Congressman Gutknecht has been a program supporter and, hopefully, can lead the charge to restore funding. The income from clean energy investment can help keep many farmers like the Wolfs, who have been in farming for generations, on the farm. Seventy percent of the farmers in the 1st Congressional district, like the Wolf family, earn their primary revenue from farming and, because farm incomes are stagnant, extra income is vital to thrive.
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