The Biden administration aims to recruit 400 farmers to help tap into vast reserves of untapped wind power in the US. Photo courtesy of USDA by Alice Welch.

400 US Farmers Enlisted In New Rural Wind Power Smackdown

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The US has a vast supply of wind power ready and waiting to be tapped, but fossil energy stakeholders have been on the lookout for every opportunity to throw a monkey wrench into the works. Well, they are going to have their hands full now. The Biden administration has just announced a new plan to recruit 400 farmers to install wind turbines on their land, and that’s just for starters.

More Wind Power For The USA

The new push for wind power builds on a US Department of Energy study that makes the case for pumping up the nation’s supply of distributed wind power, meaning hyper-local wind farms and individual wind turbines.

While gigantic offshore wind farms have been grabbing most of the wind power headlines of late, the small- and medium-sized turbines that characterize most distributed wind projects can add up to big wattage. The Energy Department released a followup distributed wind study in 2022 in which it estimated that the US has enough onshore distributed wind potential to meet half of its electricity demand.

Distributed wind turbines are typically smaller than the colossal turbines used in today’s supersized wind farms, though the size is not the determining factor. The Energy Department defines distributed wind as turbines of any size that generate electricity for use on site, or for local use. That includes industrial and commercial sites as well as farms and local communities.

400 Farmers Recruited For Distributed Wind Power

If you don’t hear much about distributed wind power, that’s not an accident. Distributed wind could become the wind version of distributed solar power resources, such as rooftop solar panels and agrivoltaic arrays. However, in contrast to the booming pace of small-scale solar development in the US, the distributed wind market has been drifting around in the doldrums.

One factor holding back the smaller-scale wind industry in past years was a lack of transparency. That has changed, now that a certification process has been established.

New improvements in small-scale wind turbine technology will also help push the distributed wind sector forward.

In terms of on-farm wind turbines specifically, the development of new business models is another point of support, and that’s where the new initiative comes in.

Last week, the US Department of Agriculture announced a joint plan with the Energy Department, aimed at helping farmers to install new distributed wind power technologies. Called RAISE for Rural and Agricultural Income & Savings from Renewable Energy, the plan includes developing new money-saving, revenue-earning business models.

The RAISE plan will get a hefty financial assist from the USDA’s ongoing Rural Energy for America Program, which was turbocharged by the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act with a $144.7 million carve-out aimed at pushing distributed wind power and other wallflower technologies into the agricultural limelight.

New Technologies For Distributed Wind Power

The Energy Department has been making the case for the US to tap into its growing store of distributed energy resources, including everything from EV batteries to grid-connected home appliances as well as wind turbines, solar panels, and other renewable energy harvesters. In addition to local benefits, the Energy Department credits distributed energy resources with alleviating stress on the nation’s aging transmission networks.

The USDA is fully on board, too.

“Distributed clean energy projects can create cost savings and income for farmers and rural small businesses,” USDA explains. “They also support energy independence, local electric grid reliability, and enhance resilience by providing back up power, especially when it is paired with energy storage. These projects also create jobs and investments in rural economies.”

With that in mind, the RAISE plan includes specific elements aimed at developing both the business side and the technology side through various existing offices and programs of USDA and the Energy Department.

One example is the Energy Department’s Wind Energy Technologies Office, which has set aside up to $2.5 million in its ongoing Distributed Wind Competitiveness Improvement Project for proposals related to the use of distributed wind power in agriculture.

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More & Better Wind Turbines For Hundreds Of Farmers

The new round of $2.5 million represents the first time CIP funding for distributed wind has been earmarked specifically for farms. No word yet on which projects will receive funding, as the selection process has yet to begin.

In the meantime, a look back at an earlier CIP round can provide a preview of the kinds of innovation the Wind Energy Technologies Office is seeking.

In 2022, the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory tapped 11 wind power manufacturers to share $2.9 million in funding under the CIP program. CIP first launched in 2012 and the addition of 11 new contracts has almost doubled the overall number of participants to a total of 26.

“These awards will support technology innovation and mitigate market and regulatory barriers to deployment of distributed wind turbines for use by homeowners, farmers, businesses, and others,”  the Energy Department stated.

The 2022 were awards are focused on reducing costs and increasing productivity as well as exploiting opportunities to coordinate with solar resources and energy storage systems, all with the aim of creating a smooth runway for commercial takeoff.

Some of the 2022 awardees have crossed the CleanTechnica radar in previous years, including Oklahoma-based Bergey Windpower Company.

Among other awardees of interest is Carter Wind Turbines of Texas. The company is tasked with developing a 20% taller tower for its 300-kilowatt wind turbine. All else being equal, taller towers cost more to fabricate and install, but that can be more than offset by the ability to harvest more wind power higher off the ground.

Distributed Wind Power & The Climate Smart Farm Of The Future

In the 2022 round of CIP funding, the Energy Department also expressed an interest in bringing Big Ag on board. It tapped the company Eocycle America Corp. to partner with “large corporate agricultural organizations to develop business models for expanding the deployment of distributed wind energy across their properties.”

Eocycle already got a headstart on farm-located wind power back in 2019, when it installed its turnkey system at Champion Valley Feedyard in Colorado.

The system generates 90,000 kilowatt-hours annually, Eocycle reported, adding that the clean power project made the farmer “more marketable to his customers and more competitive in his industry.”

Given that marketing angle, we’re guessing that the new round of CIP funding will focus some attention on the $3.1 billion USDA Climate-Smart Commodities program, which seeks to engage farmers in the market for lower-carbon agricultural products.

As for wind power opponents, the USDA and the Energy Department may be able to succeed in peppering the US landscape with hundreds of small- to medium-sized wind turbines, even as larger wind farms stall out.

Last year, the University of California – Santa Barbara released a study indicating that size can impact the intensity of local opposition to wind power projects in the US and Canada. “Larger projects were more likely to be opposed,” the authors noted.

“The names in articles associated with US opposition were overwhelmingly likely to be White,” the authors added. “This suggests an environmental justice challenge we term ‘energy privilege,’ wherein the delay and cancellation of clean energy in wealthier, Whiter communities leads to continued pollution in poorer communities, and communities of color.”

That study was based on the reactions to wind projects proposed between 2000 and 2016. A few things have changed since then, including the Biden administration’s focus on environmental justice and the emergence of new financial instruments for supersized renewable energy projects.

If you have any thoughts about that, drop us a note in the comment thread.

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Image (cropped): The USDA and US Department of Energy are collaborating on a new wind power plan for rural America (photo courtesy of USDA by Alice Welch).

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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