BRIDGEWATER – Steady, forceful winds are ideal for wind energy developers willing to hand out a fistful of dollars to landowners who agree to lease land for wind farm development.
Proponents argue that wind energy improves air and water quality, helps to prevent greenhouse gas emissions, and reduces dependency on fossil fuels.
The industry also provides some farmers with additional income.
Mike McCurdy of Bridgewater owns three 2.3-megawatt Siemens wind turbines as part of MidAmerican Energy Co.’s Rolling Hills wind project.
“People who have been wanting to rebuild sheds or purchase a pickup are now out doing that,” he said.
According to McCurdy, the local economy soared as workers poured into town. Local restaurants and stores experienced a surge in sales. As construction was completed, many workers stayed to monitor and maintain the turbines, creating jobs.
McCurdy, who owns 700 acres and leases five, said the turbines had very little impact on farming operations: He needed only to change the contour of how he plants crops.
“I can plant right up to the turbine,” he said.
As McCurdy stands at the base of a 270-foot wind turbine, a surprisingly soft, swooshing sound generates from the 106-foot-long blades.
“It didn’t take long to get used to the noise,” he said. “It’s not very loud. If anything, it drowns out any other noises like frogs and crickets.”
Wind farm developers seek the windiest sites.
“You don’t choose them, they choose you,” McCurdy said.
Developers avoid trees, buildings, and hilly terrain, which can slow wind speeds. It is also important to be near a transmission grid and a site that is accessible to construction equipment, such as large cranes.
The lease is a big commitment, but well worth the return, McCurdy said.
Easement duration can vary, but the most common term for MidAmerican Energy’s wind project is 50 years, spokeswoman Tina Potthoff said.
Income from turbines depends on turbine size, amount of electricity produced, the selling price of electricity, and the location of the turbine. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, landowners in some areas of Iowa can expect to receive an annual land-lease payment ranging from $2,000 to more than $4,000 per turbine.
“There have been people that have been approached and turned down the offer,” McCurdy said. “And after seeing how well others are doing, they say, ‘Well, I’ve changed my mind,’ and by that time it’s too late.
“It is a great deal.”