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Wind power's big opportunity in rural America

Iowa’s economy is witnessing incredible growth. Our state’s GDP is growing faster than the national average, outpacing neighboring states like Minnesota, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas. This steady growth is good news for our state and for hardworking Iowans. It equates to new jobs, revenue and opportunity at a scale we haven’t often seen.

Opportunity abounds in Iowa. But even at a time of growth, we must also recognize where that opportunity is happening and where we need to focus our efforts to drive economic activity. Nearly all of Iowa’s metropolitan areas have seen growth in recent years, but our rural communities and small towns face population shifts and modern-day challenges that must be met head on with forward-thinking solutions.

We must capitalize on every opportunity to cultivate new growth in our rural communities. One way is to harness the economic possibilities presented by wind energy. I’ve witnessed firsthand how the development of this renewable energy is doing just that. This week marks “American Wind Week” and I can think of no better state than Iowa to hold up as an example of what can happen when we embrace wind energy. Wind power has grown from humble beginnings in rural Iowa to a commonsense solution that the rest of the country looks to as a pathway forward for clean energy. Wind is a significant contributor to an all-of-the-above energy strategy that will help America meet its modern energy needs. It also leaves the door open for new innovation and job growth while providing affordable, sustainable and clean energy for generations to come.

The wind farms that punctuate Iowa’s landscape represent the innovation and enterprise that define the pioneering spirit of our state. Iowa ranks second in the nation in both wind power capacity and share of total electricity generation. Our emergence as a national wind energy leader has driven billions in investment and created thousands of new jobs in small towns across the state. In fact, there are now almost 10,000 Iowans employed by wind-related projects in Iowa.

Jobs and reliable power are a boon, but wind also generates local revenue. Wind projects in Iowa account for roughly $58 million in state and local tax payments and $20 to $30 million in lease payments to private landowners each year. For the farmers who invest in this opportunity, that’s an additional cash crop and stable income. The extra revenue also helps ensure our rural school districts can provide a great public education for Iowa students. Additionally, wind power helps rural communities manage the decreasing budgets associated with years of population loss by establishing long-term revenue streams that can pave the way to a bright future throughout Iowa.

Our network of community colleges have also created a new career pipeline. If you’re looking for one of the fastest-growing jobs in Iowa, look no further than the wind turbine technician.

As we examine our future energy needs and work toward energy independence, we must support policies that keep wind’s advancements in line with the infrastructure it needs to grow. Improvements in wind turbine technology have allowed for more efficient wind farms, and the cost of wind has declined by nearly 70 percent over the last decade. New transmission lines have the opportunity to make wind power more reliable, accessible and available to the areas they serve.

As a champion of wind energy, I’m encouraged to see our state’s progress. Over the last several years, we’ve seen an economic boom in the communities powered by wind. I ask Iowans to join me in support of a renewed commitment to leading the way on wind power.

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