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Rocky Mountain Institute Releases Report on the Economic Development Benefits Rural America Is Reaping from the Growth of Renewables

RMI’s latest report reveals how rural communities can strengthen and diversify their local economies by actively engaging in the ongoing renewable energy transition.

Boulder, CO – January 26, 2021

Despite a turbulent start to the 2020s, an important and positive message for rural America is emerging in the decade ahead: rural communities have a significant opportunity to strengthen and diversify their local economies by embracing and actively engaging in the ongoing renewable energy transition.

By 2030, renewable energy capacity in the United States will at least double, and potentially grow by a factor of seven or higher if new policies are enacted to capitalize on continuing cost declines in wind and solar technologies. As a result, rural communities––which host 99 percent of onshore wind and a growing share of utility-scale solar projects––stand to receive a sizeable boost to their local economies.

“The growth of renewable energy in this decade represents a once-in-a-generation wealth creation opportunity for rural America,” said Mark Dyson, principal at Rocky Mountain Institute. “Rural communities in many states are already showing how to leverage the growth of the renewables industry to enhance local economies, and our report lays out a playbook for scaling and extending those benefits across the country.”

This report quantifies the scale of the economic development opportunity from the growth of onshore wind and utility-scale solar projects in rural areas. Our analysis suggests that:

  • Annual revenues from wind and solar projects could exceed $60 billion dollars by 2030—on par with expected revenues from the top three US agricultural commodities: corn, soy, and beef production.
  • Annual local taxes paid by wind and solar projects could total $2.7 billion in 2030, allowing rural town and county governments to invest more in public services and school districts. Further, lease payments to rural landowners could exceed $2.2 billion by 2030.
  • The 54 GW of wind and solar projects slated to come online in 2030 will employ roughly 40,000 workers during the construction phase, delivering $2.3 billion in annual wages. Meanwhile, a long-term operations and maintenance workforce of 38,000 will be needed to support operating wind and solar projects in 2030, delivering $3.7 billion in annual wages.
  • The approximately 600 GW of new wind and solar projected to be built between 2020 and 2030 would generate $220 billion in lifetime value across rural America.

“These numbers indicate the steady and significant stream of benefits that rural communities stand to receive from wind or solar projects developed in their area. A thriving rural renewable energy industry has the potential to bolster local economies across the country at a time when such an economic stimulus is sorely needed,” said Katie Siegner, an associate in RMI’s Carbon-Free Electricity program.

The report provides case studies of existing projects from three different regions and offers recommendations for local, state, and federal leaders to unlock this opportunity. If rural communities embrace renewable energy, it could spur an investment in rural America that will total in the hundreds of billions of dollars, helping communities maintain and strengthen their economic viability for the long term.

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Notes to Editors

About Rocky Mountain Institute
Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI)—an independent nonprofit founded in 1982—transforms global energy use to create a clean, prosperous, and secure low-carbon future. It engages businesses, communities, institutions, and entrepreneurs to accelerate the adoption of market-based solutions that cost-effectively shift from fossil fuels to efficiency and renewables. RMI [i1] has offices in Basalt and Boulder, Colorado; New York City; Oakland, California; Washington, D.C.; and Beijing.

More information on RMI can be found at or follow us on Twitter @RockyMtnInst.