Donald Trump has been elected the 45th president of the United States and his campaign is to be commended for earning the support of rural America – a voting constituency that most analysts say assured his election. We hope that support will, in turn, prompt a commitment from the new administration to America’s farmers, ranchers, forestland owners and small communities that represent the driving force behind the 25x’25 Vision.
We are encouraged by the president-elect’s vigorous support for the federal Renewable Fuel Standard and for the biofuel industry in general. We would also urge the new administration to stay the course that has accelerated the wide development and deployment of other renewable energy technologies in rural America, such as biomass, wind, solar, hydropower and geothermal. This progress is keeping the nation on track to meet 25 percent of the its energy needs coming from renewable energy sources by 2025.
25x’25 has nearly 1,000 partners – agricultural and forestry trade groups and organizations, large and small businesses, academic and governmental interests – all with deep roots in rural America and all with the understanding of the wide economic benefits that clean, domestically produced renewable energy is contributing to communities that might not otherwise share in the prosperity that that has been experienced by many of the nation’s urban centers.
There is much indisputable evidence that supports the development of renewable energy and the implementation of energy efficiency measures – more jobs, fewer emissions, improved energy security, and many others. But the point that we hope is most resonant with the new administration is the difference that clean and conserved energy can make to the nation’s bottom line.
Low- and no-carbon renewable energy continues to grow at an incredibly rapid rate, in large part due to sharply dropping production costs. Federal tax credits and multiple state policies have helped push exponential growth in the wind energy and solar power sectors, and we urge all who take office next year – at both the state and federal levels – to maintain those policy mechanisms.
By extension, the push for renewable energy offers farmers, ranchers, forestland owners and rural communities huge income opportunities, a principle that 25x’25 has been preaching since its origins in 2004.
In a report that we detailed here last month, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) says more than $100 billion has been invested by companies in low-income counties, where some 70 percent of the nation’s wind farms are located. BNEF analysts say that by 2030, rural landowners will receive up to $900 million a year from wind developers for land leases. American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) data show U.S. wind farms currently pay more than $220 million a year to farming families and other rural landowners, and more than $156 million of that is going to landowners in counties with below-average incomes.
The solar energy sector also makes massive financial contributions to rural landowners and the counties and states where solar farms are being located. Through June of this year, solar has reached 31.6 gigawatts (GW) of total installed capacity. Many of the new solar facilities are being built by an array of rural-based electric cooperatives around the country, pumping billions of dollars into the national, state and local economies.
Citing a recent study by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, the American Biogas Council says the dairy sector alone could create $3 billion in products from biogas/anaerobic digestion systems. Biogas industry experts say building 11,000 new systems would result in at least $33 billion in capital expenditures for construction activity, generating approximately 275,000 short-term construction jobs and 18,000 permanent jobs to run the digesters.
The biofuels sector contributed nearly $44 billion to the nation’s gross domestic product in 2015, with close to $24 billion coming from agriculture. The Renewable Fuels Association says the economic activities of the ethanol industry put $9.1 billion in rural American pockets last year.
Also worth noting is a study released earlier this year by Environmental Entrepreneurs, a clean energy advocacy group of business executives, that shows nearly 414,000 people work in the sector, many in rural areas.
The economic benefits of renewable energy not only better the lives of farmers, ranchers and forestland owners, they also help boost local tax revenues that allow rural counties to renovate roads, build schools and update infrastructure, as well as pay down debt.
The 25x’25 Alliance has always recognized that renewable energy is one part of an “all-of-the-above” national energy strategy. Natural gas and other fossil fuels will remain the largest part of our energy resource base for decades to come. But we also urge the new administration to recognize the wide, positive impact renewable energy development has made on a constituency – rural America – that proved important in this week’s elections, and has played a major role in changing and expanding our clean energy resources.