Delivering Community Benefits to Rural Families
Meet the Merz family, who live and work alongside the operating Kay Wind facility in Oklahoma.
What is it like to live near a wind farm?
Understandably, this is one of the most common questions the Apex Public Affairs team is asked as we travel around the country speaking with farmers, ranchers, elected officials, and members of the public. Though we can certainly offer an answer to this question ourselves, we know that it is much more meaningful coming from the folks who are actually living and working alongside operating Apex wind energy projects. So, in 2015, we started an initiative to begin collecting the stories of some of these individuals. We are calling them Wind Stories.
Our first Wind Story features the Merz family of Kay County, Oklahoma. Doug, his wife Karin, and their young son live and farm beside the Kay Wind facility, which began operating in 2015. The Merz family runs a farming operation on their land, and they also manage a contracting business in the area. Growing up in a place where the wind was always blowing, they were excited to be part of a project that would finally harness that wind for a practical purpose. Today, the Kay Wind facility is helping them preserve their farming operation, while providing enough clean energy to power about 102,000 homes. As Doug Merz explained, “With the farming, it’s different year to year. You can do everything right, everything you’re supposed to, and Mother Nature can decide differently. Construction is kind of the same way; it can kind of go up and down. With the wind, it’s a steady flow of income coming in, and that’s what we liked about it.”
Alongside the grain silos and water towers, these turbines have come to represent the newest crop for local farmers.
Benefits for Education
With a child getting ready to enter the local public school system, the Merz family has also grown more aware of the funding challenges facing Oklahoma’s school districts. As Karin noted, one of the things they most appreciate about the Kay Wind farm is that it is contributing valuable tax revenue to the local schools. Kay Wind is expected to provide about $53 million to Kay County and local school districts over the project’s lifetime, funds that will help sustain their small rural districts for decades.
Harvesting the Wind
The Merz farm is in a beautiful part of the country. The property sits on Oklahoma’s northern border, about 15 minutes from the Kansas state line, in a region that is home to vast landscapes of blowing grain, grasses, and corn. The sunsets are spectacular, and on a quiet evening, when the train rolls through town, you swear you might just be in a Norman Rockwell painting, experiencing a rare slice of true Americana. Today, about 130 statuesque wind turbines are visible along the horizon, spinning slowly, like mesmerizing dancers in the evening fields. Alongside the grain silos and water towers, these turbines have come to represent the newest crop for local farmers. Drought tolerant, reliable, and undisruptive, the energy they harvest will help feed our power-hungry nation, without using water or emitting air pollutants. For the next 20 to 30 years, these gentle giants will steadily go about their quiet work as the buzz of farm life continues around them.
One Family’s Story
It was a pleasure to work with the Merz family on the making of our first Wind Story. For two days, our film crew followed them around as they prepared their fields, worked in their shop, and enjoyed time with the family. They graciously invited us into their home to allow us to capture a snapshot of their day-to-day life and to help us understand the role the wind farm plays in their daily experience. Even in our brief time with the Merzes, it was clear that they assess each decision they have to make on the way it will impact their family, their land, their business, and their community. Their decision to participate in Kay Wind is a clear demonstration of their commitment to these values and their confidence that this project will help sustain them all.
Watch the full Wind Story, “Sustaining Farming Families.”