Harvesting Wheat and Wind in
Sherman County, Oregon
In Sherman County, located in north central Oregon, golden wheat grows and the wind blows. Through innovative economic development strategies this small community is benefitting from both.
Prior to 2002 ShermanCounty faced a fate common to many rural western U.S. communities. They had very few employment opportunitiesand revenue of only a few hundred thousand dollars annually. And then the winds of opportunity blew in, literally. Wind energy developers partnered with farmers and began installing turbines in wheat fields. The farmers receive a lease payment from theenergy developers, which helps keep wheat farming economically viable.
Wind farms have brought more than $17 million in propertytaxes and investments into Sherman County. In an innovative and forward-looking approach the countysaves 20-30 percent of the revenue it receives from wind development in a rainy day fund and to make infrastructure and community development investments. Judge GaryThompson, member of the Sherman County Board of Commissioners, said, “That translates to meeting essential community needs like fire departments andhealth services, new supplies for students, and capital projects likeconstruction of a new school, library and city hall.” It's also paid down debt for wastewater systems in three towns and launched a renewable energytechnician program at Columbia Gorge Community College.
Additionally, more than $1 million has been paiddirectly to county residents through the Sherman County's Resident CompensationProgram, which pays $590 per year to each resident as a means of sharing surplus revenue and encouraging a positive outlook on new development. Sherman County is the only county in the nation that makes payments to residents based on revenue from wind energy. The county could afford to pay more but decided to cap it below $600 to spare two clerksfrom having to file hundreds of additional tax forms.
This is a low-carbon, clean economy version of the Alaska Permanent Fund from which Alaska residents receive annual payments as a share of the revenue from oil flowing through the 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline.
In addition to boosting the county's annual revenues from $315,000 in 2002 to $10 million in 2010, the wind industry has also brought eight permanent jobs per 100 megawatts, or about 80 jobs for the 1,000 megawatts of wind power now installed. Several hundred jobs were generated during the construction phase.
This is pretty impressive for a community with1,800 residents, 65% of whom are senior citizens living on fixed incomes. It is a win-win, or in this case, wind-wind situation.
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