How Ya’ Gonna’ Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm…?

More and more, people in the US who live in rural and agricultural settings are recognizing the value of renewable energy. The McCook Daily Gazette reports on a recent University of Nebraska poll of rural Nebraskans that shows

Nearly 90 percent of respondents … agreed the government should encourage use of renewable energy sources.

More than 80 percent agreed that producing more ethanol and biodiesel blended fuels and generating more electricity with wind turbines would benefit Nebraska’s economy. Sixty-five percent also agreed alternative energy sources are better for the environment than traditional fossil fuels. While some respondents had no opinion, only 4 percent or fewer disagreed with these statements.

“The people have spoken and a strong majority feels alternative energy can be win-win,” said Bruce Johnson, an Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources agricultural economist who works on the poll. He said he has long sensed strong support for alternative energy among rural Nebraskans, but the magnitude of the results surprised him.

“Self-sufficiency is part of rural culture. It’s part of having some power over one’s future,” Johnson said. Using home-grown or produced energy fits that ethos well. “I think people are seeing the local potential.”

Nebraska, of course, isn’t the only state in which farmers and rural residents like renewables. In New Jersey, the state’s Power Crop program has farmers going solar, according to Trentonian.com:

The farmers are putting solar power systems over barn roofs and fields to make electricity for their homes, farm buildings and irrigation systems — while reducing pollution with a clean, renewable energy source.

A further lure for the farmers is a unique program that uses state rebates, credits and investor funds to cover all the upfront costs of the expensive solar systems, including maintenance. The program also guarantees farmers at least 10 percent savings on their electric bills.

“That is just brilliant,” said Carol Tombari, a senior project leader at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo.

Tombari said she knows of no such programs elsewhere, noting experts consider New Jersey to have the best combination of financial incentives and policies to encourage renewable energy.

While the numbers in the Nebraska poll show considerable environmental awareness, it seems clear that economics are largely drivng these shifts. I’ve got to wonder if renewable power may be the best hope we have for maintaining and even reviving rural communities in the US.

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