Can Renewables Help with Rural Broadband?
Updated: Sep 9, 2021
One way we are seeing wind farms developments make a real difference to rural communities is through expanded access to broadband internet. In both Benton and Randolph Counties, revenue and special economic development payments from the wind farms are allowing the county to bring broadband to communities for the first time.
Rural broadband has been priority for years. But, in the last few weeks I think we are all becoming more aware of the importance of fast and reliable internet at home. The truth is the importance won’t diminish in a few weeks or months when our lives hopefully go back to normal.
In a large part thanks to the wind and solar projects, our rural communities are bringing new opportunities – like broadband - to people who live there.
Students need fast and reliable internet to study. People need it to find work and training. Entrepreneurs dreaming of starting a new business need it to find opportunity. As Ceann Bales of the Randolph Community and Economic Development Corporation put it, “If we can’t figure out how to get broadband to rural America, these towns are going to be gone."
Of course, it’s a matter of funding. Can we afford this? What are the trade-offs? Should we raise taxes? Should we borrow money to make improvements in service possible? What’s the right answer?
Benton County is laying fiber optic Internet service to deliver broadband to 75% of the county. This is only possible because of additional county revenue, thanks to the wind farm.
In Randolph County, they are embarking on project to bring equal access to broadband throughout the county thanks to $4 million from wind farm payments. Because the county leadership took bold action years ago to bring renewable energy to their county they now have the ability to fund this initiative.
And it’s not just the money. Randolph County is also exploring a partnership with their wind farm developer to put down fiber in the ditches they dig for the wind farm power cables. This could help lay miles of broadband fiber that otherwise would have been extremely costly.
Having access to broadband internet is critical for the success and growth of rural communities. Yet, according to the Purdue Center for Regional Development, 10% of Hoosiers live in digitally distressed neighborhoods. Our students and citizens deserve the best, just as all Hoosiers do.
In a large part thanks to the wind and solar projects, our rural communities are bringing new opportunities – like broadband - to people who live there. These types of community partnerships are critical to our rural communities, and they go beyond just monetary value.
I hope we keep seeing more of these as renewable sources like solar and wind expand in Indiana.
Ceann, Greg, and Paul explain better than me. See what they have to say: