Clean Energy Investments Can Boost Wisconsin’s Rural Economies

Rural Wisconsin has been devastated by the climate crisis, with unpredictable cycles of flooding and drought decimating crops and extreme heat decreasing dairy output. For the state’s farmers and rural communities, the growing clean energy industry has provided a buoy to help them weather the economic impacts of the climate crisis. Wisconsin is a national leader in rural clean energy employment and now, the state has the opportunity to create thousands more good-paying jobs in rural areas through the American Jobs Plan’s historic investments in clean energy. 

Rural Wisconsin Has Been Hit Hard By The Climate Crisis. As the climate crisis intensifies, severe flooding, drought, and wildfires are becoming increasingly devastating throughout Wisconsin. This devastation harms communities and comes at a steep economic cost.

  • Extreme weather events fueled by climate change are already harming Wisconsin’s agricultural sector. 
    • Devastating flooding across the Midwest contributed to 19.4 million acres of cropland going unplanted in 2019.
      • Flooding across southern Wisconsin in 2018 caused millions in additional losses to the state’s agriculture industry the following year. In Dane County, nearly one in 10 acres of cropland went unplanted in 2019 due to flooded fields. 
      • Dane County accounted for 36% of Wisconsin’s total agricultural sales from crops and 64% of livestock, poultry and other products in 2017.
  • This June, over half of Wisconsin is experiencing at least moderate drought conditions, with Southeastern Wisconsin facing severe drought that is raising concern for crop farmers in areas reliant upon steady rain.
  • Due to drought conditions, Wisconsin is on track to see its worst fire season in more than five years. So far this year, 821 wildfires have burned through some 1,941 acres in the state, posing a particular threat to rural areas where both crops and farm buildings have been destroyed. 

Wisconsin’s Dairy  Industry And Farmers Are Paying The Price of Climate Change. Rural communities are paying the price for climate inaction. Failure to address the climate crisis will have devastating consequences for Wisconsin’s dairy and agriculture industry, which would have ripple effects throughout the state economy. 

  • Extreme heat threatens Wisconsin’s dairy cows, which are particularly sensitive to heat stress. 
    • Heat-stressed dairy cows cost the U.S. dairy industry $1.5 billion annually, and Wisconsin farmers report losses of up to 10 pounds of milk production per cow per day due to extreme heat. 
    • As Wisconsin’s average temperatures increase, the cows that fuel half of the state’s $104.8 billion agricultural economy are at risk.
  • Wisconsin saw 48 Chapter 12 family farm bankruptcies over the 12-month period ending in September 2019 — the highest rate in the nation. Bankruptcies surged following two years of adverse planting, growing and harvesting conditions coupled with trade wars.

Clean Energy Investments Benefit Rural Economics. These investments have helped farmers weather the economic impacts of the climate crisis, such as decreased crop and dairy yields, and they have a positive ripple effect throughout surrounding rural communities.

  • Landowners who wind host turbines receive annual land-lease payments, a reliable source of income for farmers and ranchers. 
    • Yearly income from wind turbine leases help agricultural landowners make up for economic dips caused by drought, floods, tariffs and the fluctuating price of goods.
    • Wind projects generate an estimated $761 million each year in state and local tax revenue — which helps to support roads, schools, and a variety of other services.
    • In 2018, the wind sector alone paid $1 billion to state/local governments and private landowners in tax and lease payments.
    • Investments in clean energy can provide jobs, direct payments to landowners, and a boost in tax revenue to rural communities across the state. 
      • The Quilt Block wind farm in Seymour Township has spurred economic growth in the area while cutting emissions and delivering millions of dollars in lease payments to local landowners. The project has paid more than $540,000 in local taxes, more than $6.3 million to landowners, including farmers, as well as creating 100 jobs during the construction period and 12 permanent jobs thereafter. 
      • Farmers and other landowners are expected to receive between $7,500 and $12,500 per year in land payments from a proposed RWE Renewable Americas wind farm in Clark County. The farm is also expected to generate $26 million in tax revenue for Clark County and the towns of Mayville and Hoard and create at least 150 construction jobs. 

Clean Energy Investment Means Jobs For Rural Wisconsinites. Building a clean energy economy can help the economic recovery across the state, especially in rural communities, by putting even more people to work building clean energy sources, making buildings, and homes more energy efficient, and restoring our public lands.

  • Wisconsin is already home to 69,343 jobs in the clean energy sector, including generating clean renewable energy and improving energy efficiency.
  • Wisconsin ranked 4th in the nation for rural clean energy employment, with 17,630 jobs in rural areas representing 25.4% of all clean energy jobs in the state. 
  • From June through December 2020, clean energy employment in Wisconsin grew 6.2%, showing the resilience of the industry despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Employment overall in Wisconsin grew 3.78% during the same period.
  • A 2019 study found transitioning to renewable energy could create 162,100 jobs  at an average annual salary of $50,000 a year, providing a $14.4 billion boost in economic activity for the state.
  • Renewable energy projects create a range of economic benefits, and the Dairy State is a prime example of how investments in clean energy can spur economic growth in rural communities, providing good-paying jobs for Wisconsinites.
  • In February 2021, Alliant Energy announced it would build more than 1,000 MW of utility scale solar energy in the state by 2024. The solar projects will create 1,600 construction jobs, generate $4 million in annual payments to local governments, and deliver approximately $5 million in land rental income, primarily to farmers, on an annual basis for 30 years. 

Wisconsinites Want Bold Solutions. Strong investments in building the clean energy economy is the right thing to do politically because outside of the partisan gridlock of Washington, investing in new jobs to address the climate crisis is what the voters want.

  • According to a survey conducted by Data for Progress:
    • 74% of registered voters in Wisconsin support The American Jobs Plan.
    • 77% of registered voters in Wisconsin support investments in clean energy jobs.
    • 73% of registered voters in Wisconsin want Congressional action on climate change.
    • 73% of registered voters in Wisconsin support expanding clean energy tax credits.
    • 66% of registered voters in Wisconsin believe clean energy investments will have positive outcomes.