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Hard-pressed farmers turn to wind for cash

Missouri’s family farms are in decline but some farmers, who once relied on hogs or soybeans to make ends meet, will soon be harvesting wind energy.
A defunct, decades-old wind mill stands below the parts of a huge wind turbine being installed near King City, Mo.
A defunct, decades-old wind mill stands below the parts of a huge wind turbine being installed near King City, Mo.Orlin Wagner / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The decline of the family farm is part of Northwest Missouri’s economic problems, which range from the shuttering of a nearby manufacturing plant to a steadily dwindling population.

But some farmers in the region who once relied on hogs or soybeans to make ends meet will soon be harvesting wind energy.

By next year, more than 100 towering turbines are expected to reach into the sky in Atchison, Gentry and Nodaway counties, generating enough electricity to power 45,000 homes as part of Missouri’s first set of commercial wind farms.

“There’s not a lot of money in rural America. We’re not going to get another factory,” said Frank Schieber, a fourth-generation Nodaway farmer. “It’s a shot in the arm.”

After several years of study by state government and university scientists, attorney Tom Carnahan — the son of late Gov. Mel Carnahan — created the Wind Energy Group in 2004.

John Deere helps out
With financing from tractor giant John Deere & Co., Carnahan has committed to the construction of three wind farms in the state’s far reaches, each costing $70 million to $75 million.

The first, known as Blue Grass Ridge, is scheduled to come online later this year in Gentry County, north of King City. The second, called Cow Branch, will be located between Rock Port and Tarkio in Atchison County. And on Oct. 20, Carnahan and his corporate partners announced plans for a third near Conception in Nodaway County.

Property owners who allow the company to build on their land will earn $3,000 to $5,000 per turbine over the next 25 years, depending on the amount of electricity generated. They can continue to farm the surrounding land or let herds graze right up to the base of the turbines, which are 15 feet wide and weigh 200 tons each.

Installation of the turbines will represent a temporary construction boon with the employment of up to 150 workers at the project’s peak. The infusion of property tax receipts to local governments and school systems will be substantial, supporters have said.

Some hurdles for energy source
Around the country, widespread use of wind power remains a work in progress. Besides environmental and aesthetic concerns and the necessity of finding open spaces with adequate wind speeds, the biggest hurdle remains finding utility companies to purchase the power, said Carnahan.

Unlike Iowa and other surrounding states, Missouri does not offer sales or property tax credits for wind farm construction.

Market forces, including the past year’s skyrocketing gas prices, helped drive the demand for wind-generated electricity in Missouri, Carnahan said.

The power generated by Carnahan’s projects will be purchased by Associated Electrical Cooperative Inc., a wholesale power supplier for 39 rural electric cooperatives in Missouri.

In this volatile energy climate, the appeal of wind farming is simple, said Rick Anderson, an energy analyst with the state Department of Natural Resources.

“Wind won’t change in price,” he said. “It will be much more stable” than fossil fuels.