By Makenzie Heddens
When Ed Hatcher looks out the kitchen window of his rural Montezuma farmhouse, he can see at least 25 wind turbines in the distance.
“When I see them, I see a solution to our climate problems,” said Hatcher, who was once a high school science teacher. “And I’m glad to be playing a role in the production of renewable energy.”
Hatcher and his son, Michael, farm 1,300 acres of corn near Ewart – land that has been in his wife, Bev’s, family for generations. They have three MidAmerican Energy wind turbines – part of the North English Wind Farm - on their land.
North English is a 170-turbine, 340-megawatt development in Poweshiek County. The hundreds of turbines are easily visible to travelers on Interstate 80. When complete, it will have the capacity to power 143,000 homes. Alliant Energy, meanwhile, is developing a separate 170-megawatt wind farm nearby. Together, those two projects will bring investments of more than $1 billion to the county of 18,000 residents.
For farmers, the turbines are a source of revenue. And with a trade war impacting commodity prices, Hatcher said, those dollars make a difference.
“We get lease payments from MidAm that come to about $30,000 per year,” said Hatcher. “Corn is maybe break-even right now so the lease payments on what is a tiny fraction of our land is a better return than corn.”
Still, Hatcher acknowledges, the renewable energy component is really important to him.
“I want to be part of the solution,” he said.
This is the first growing season that the turbines have been on the farm, and Hatcher said he hardly noticed them during planting. He pointed out their footprint is actually quite small, and the roads that lead to the structures are not a problem.
“I look at this as a diversification of my operation,” said Hatcher. “My wife’s parents were first approached by wind farm developers in 2008 and they did a lot of research. They also got an annual payment to keep the land under option. So, there has been a revenue stream.”
Audubon County farmer Randy Dreher said he can appreciate Hatcher’s situation. Dreher doesn’t have any turbines on the family land he farms, but he said his parents have five turbines on the family farm in Adair County.
“Farmers are going to do what makes sense,” Dreher said. “And it’s not always just about the money. It’s about property rights and ensuring a sustainable foundation for agriculture – and ultimately about the family farm.”
Dreher is a member of his county Farm Bureau board and he said there is much conversation about wind in his area. While there are a few wind farms in Audubon County, Adair County has significant wind energy being generated and Dreher said it’s helping the local economy.
“If farmers are doing well, and new taxes are improving roads and bridges, and small-town businesses are benefiting then that’s having a positive economic impact.”
Back at the Hatcher farm, Ed said he’s gotten no criticism for allowing wind turbines on his land.
“No one gives me any negative feedback,” Hatcher said. “In fact, I’m surrounded by other farmers who have turbines, too. I look out my window to the east and I see some 25 turbines – and I don’t have a problem with that.”
Not long ago, Hatcher recalled, “The sun was setting, and all of the turbines were pink. It was something I had to photograph. It’s something I want to remember.”
So Hatcher, an avid photographer, snapped the shot. And he said it’s a picture he’ll be keeping.
Editor’s note: This story was submitted by Makenzie Heddens with Power up Iowa and is the first in a series of features regarding the economic impacts of wind energy across the state.