Harvesting Renewable Energy in the Midwest


Harvesting Renewable Energy in the Midwest

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German-American Lessons Learned on Rural Development

July 28, 2011
Neil Vielleux

By Neil Vielleux

In Germany, over 200,000 farmers have become energy producers, harvesting energy revenues, green jobs, and local economic development opportunities from renewable energy technologies like solar, wind, biogas, and biomass. In comparison, energy farming in the US has developed at a much slower rate. While the US offers a beneficial renewable energy tax credit, which has been used to boost wind production, the tax code is burdensome for small or medium-sized farmers. Therefore, only two percent of the wind market in the US is owned by communities or farmers, leaving a whopping 83 percent which is owned by larger corporations. Germany, on the other hand, encourages community energy projects through its leading CLEAN contracts (feed-in tariff) policy. This policy offers local energy producers strong incentives for developing their own projects, including long-term revenue certainty and guaranteed grid integration.

The report, Harvesting Renewable Energy: German-American Lessons Learned on Rural Development highlights the German successes in energy farming and explores how the three Midwestern states of South Dakota, Wisconsin and Minnesota can expand their local renewable energy project development. The report looks into renewable resources and current policies in each of the three Midwestern states, each of which has huge potential for energy production. Wisconsin, for example is the national leader in biogas development. Minnesota boasts the title of national leader for community wind installations and is the fourth in the country for wind capacity. And South Dakota draws 50 percent of its electricity from hydroelectric power and is a national leader in biofuel production, namely ethanol. While these states currently have some renewable energy policies in place, this report offers policy recommendations for incentivizing rural renewable energy projects based on the German success model. If these policies contribute anything close to what Germany’s rural energy farmers are experiencing, the US will see a jump in green jobs, an increase in clean energy production and economic growth in the local agricultural community.

National Farmers Union President, Roger Johnson, shares the view that CLEAN contracts can greatly influence rural renewable energy production, “This policy ensures that farmers have a clear, long term incentive to produce distributed power at a profit with a reasonable return on investment... We can learn from what others are doing to provide a stronger rural economy, to reduce our crippling dependence on dangerous, foreign sources of oil and to begin dealing with our shared responsibility to leave a more stable, more sustainable world for our grandchildren.”

This report is the final assessment of the outcomes of the Midwest Renewable Energy Tour 2011, sponsored by the National Farmers Union and the Heinrich Boell Foundation. Held June 26 – July 1, 2011, the tour invited a German energy farmer, Dirk Ketelsen of Dirkshof-Gruppe, along with Neil Vielleux, a consultant a Meister Consultants Group and author of the report, to meet with farmers, policy experts, and decision makers in the Midwestern states. During these meetings, Mr. Ketelsen contributed a firsthand example of the growth of his energy farming and the potential for the benefits provided by Germany’s CLEAN contracts policy. Mr. Vielleux, 2011 Midwest Renewable Energy Fellow, brought his policy expertise to discuss the significant opportunities for small and medium-sized rural energy producers and current policies in the field of renewable energy and sustainability.

Click here to read Harvesting Renewable Energy in the Midwest (56 pages, pdf, 379KB)

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