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May/June 2008

Inside This Issue:

 

Wind Energy Siting Protocol Developed for Individuals, Communities
Wondering if a wind energy system would make economic sense for your home, farm, or small community? A new protocol developed by Drs. Robert Weissbach and James Sonnenmeier of Penn State Erie-The Behrend College will help you take the first step in answering that question. The Wind Turbine Economic Feasibility Protocol, which was developed through a grant from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, is essentially an economic calculator that can help users estimate the potential return on their investment in a wind energy system.

Protocol development
Drs. Weissbach and Sonnenmeier developed the calculator using Microsoft Excel®. With this calculator, rural landowners and others interested in small wind energy systems are able to have a preliminary estimate of the economic return on their investment in the system.

While economic calculators already exist for evaluating wind energy, they are all highly detailed and typically intended for wind energy professionals to evaluate potential wind energy generation projects. Rural landowners with limited knowledge or initial access to professional advice may find these calculators to be less user friendly.

The economic calculator developed for this project was purposely tailored towards rural users who are not experts in wind energy. These include:

The protocol is set up to enable the user to input information regarding: wind capacity, which is an assessment of the potential for energy generation; power and energy requirements based on the capability of the wind turbine; regulatory costs; installation costs; the cost of the tower and associated hardware; the cost of land preparation; the cost of interfacing with the utility grid; and the economic return on investment (capital recovery period). The output of the economic calculator is a rate of return that enables the user to know whether the investment is a good idea. It is called a protocol because the user will look at the rate of return and decide whether the value exceeds a threshold that corresponds to a reasonable investment.

Users of the calculator should have some knowledge of home economics, such as mortgages and taxes. The researchers also suggest having qualified personnel involved in the wind energy decision-making and installation process.

Test cases
After the protocol was developed, the researchers analyzed a series of test cases to validate its effectiveness. The first group of test cases involved case studies completed by other investigators that provided an internal rate of return (IRR) as part of the analysis. The second group of test cases was real-life case studies for rural landowners in Pennsylvania. The researchers chose two sites, both located in Crawford County and about 20 miles from each other.

The results from the simulated case studies indicated that the protocol would provide a reasonable first estimate for those interested in determining the economic feasibility of installing a wind energy system at a particular location. Because of the significant number of variables associated with this estimate, the IRR results were more sensitive to some variables than others.

In the local test cases, both landowners at the Crawford County sites were able to see the sensitivity of the resulting IRR as different parameters, such as electricity costs, construction costs, and annual operating and maintenance costs, were modified. Although the results at both sites did not yield an IRR that met the landowners’ acceptance threshold, both landowners were able to validate the protocol’s functionality and overall use.

Research results
Overall, the test cases demonstrated that the wind resource is very much site specific and, more importantly, that matching the wind turbine to the wind resource is critical to a successful wind energy generation system. The level of expertise required to do this successfully is not something that anyone can easily do.

One of the main drivers of the protocol is the capacity factor, which is the amount of power that a wind generator is producing compared to its rated power. Getting to this number is difficult since tools, such as wind maps, have sometimes misled people into believing there is sufficient wind for any type of turbine at their site.

This research highlighted the critical need for an unbiased wind professional to assist landowners in the evaluation of their wind resource, in general, and to get them started on using the protocol so they can make informed decisions.

The researchers believe that the most viable option is for the unbiased wind professional to ultimately be funded within the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Although DEP is known primarily in its regulatory capacity, it is already performing functions in support of renewable energy, such as through the Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority and Energy Harvest Grant Programs. DEP is also cognizant and supportive of renewable energy and the positive impact it can have on improving the environment, reducing dependence on fossil fuels, and providing a positive economic benefit to rural landowners and communities.

Report available
For a copy of the report, Protocol for Determining the Feasibility of Installing Dedicated Wind Energy in Pennsylvania Rural Communities, call the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at (717) 787-9555, email info@ruralpa.org or visit www.ruralpa.org. The protocol, instructions on its use, and information on understanding the protocol worksheets are also available at www.ruralpa.org and www.pserie.psu.edu/academic/engineering/AppliedEnergyCenter/projects.htm.

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Research Gauges Trends in Water Resources Management
Every day, Pennsylvania local officials make decisions that affect water resources. Trends in increasing water demands, more frequent droughts, and rising public concern about water availability and quality will likely make sound local decisions about water even more critical to the well being of Pennsylvanians.

To help policymakers, local officials, and others improve local management of the quality and quantity of groundwater and surface water resources, Dr. Charles Abdalla and Kristen Saacke Blunk of Pennsylvania State University conducted research, sponsored by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, to identify and describe current and future water resource issues in the commonwealth.

Through a mail survey conducted in 2006, the research documented: current water management activities of local governments; knowledge and use of water management tools; and the educational, training and technical assistance needs of local governments.

The research provided a comparative analysis of the changes that have occurred relative to local government management of water resources since 1991, when a similar survey was conducted. The 2006 survey provided information necessary to identify statewide trends over the past 15 years on water resource issues.

2006 survey results
According to the 2006 survey results, municipal officials in rural areas of the state perceive, to a greater degree than officials in urban areas, that their water supply is dependent upon groundwater. Residents of rural areas likely have a heightened awareness of well-supplied drinking water, and consequently, groundwater as a source of water supply.  In terms of groundwater quantity specifically, the researchers found that rural officials perceived their water supply – more likely to be groundwater than surface water – to be less adequate than officials in urban areas.

A majority of local officials indicated that the quality of water in their municipality was “good” to “very good.” Officials in the southeast and northeast regions of the state said their water quality was better than other regions. Yet, when asked about their expectations for their municipalities’ water quality for the year 2010, officials in these two regions more strongly believed that their municipality’s water quality would worsen.

Local officials also strongly believed that, presently, the water supply in their municipality was adequate. Only about 3 percent of respondents stated their municipality’s supply was either barely adequate or not adequate. Municipal officials felt that their water supply would worsen as 2010 approaches. Furthermore, local officials identified drought as the greatest threat (93 percent) to the adequacy of water supply more so than increased land development, increased use of water by the existing population, and rapid population growth.

A comparison of results
When comparing the results of the 1991 and 2006 surveys, the researchers found that local officials believed the quality of water in their municipalities diminished in 2006 compared to 1991. However, there was relatively little change in their attitudes about water quantity.

Results from both surveys also provided several indications of progress in how municipalities are planning and communicating about water resources. For example, communications between water suppliers and municipalities had slightly increased over the 15-year period and cooperative efforts and multi-municipal agreements relative to land use and water planning grew from 18 percent in 1991 to 27 percent in 2006. Municipal-sponsored education or citizen participation programs about water quality and quantity also increased by 12 percent from 1991 to 2006.

From the findings that local officials’ concerns about water quality were increasing over time and that concerns about water quantity were not, the researchers concluded that state and local agencies and nongovernmental organizations should give more attention to educating Pennsylvanians on water quantity issues. These results suggest that municipal leadership is generally becoming more informed over time about water quality issues that confront communities – but perhaps have not made the same level of progress in understanding the growing issues of water availability.

Report available
For a copy of the report, Pennsylvania Local Government and Water Resources Management: 1991 and 2006, call the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at (717) 787-9555, email info@ruralpa.org, or visit www.ruralpa.org/reports.html.

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Chairman’s Message
For centuries, we have been harnessing the power of wind. As far back as the 7th century, wind powered mills were used for grinding grain. Christopher Columbus may never have discovered the Americas without the power of wind for his massive ships. Around the middle of the 19th century, wind energy pumped water for crops and cattle. Today, more and more people and communities are considering this centuries-old method of energy production as a means to energy independence and conservation of natural resources.  

Recognizing this newfound market demand, and the limited information that homeowners and communities can use to make informed decisions about this energy option, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania provided research support in 2006 to help develop a wind energy siting protocol.

The featured article on Page 1 highlights the research of Drs. Robert Weissbach and James Sonnenmeier of Penn State University-Behrend. Their work resulted in the development of a protocol, or economic calculator, as a first step in determining whether a small wind energy system would make economic sense for an individual landowner, farmer or small community. The protocol isn’t terribly complicated to use, but users need to know about their own economic situation and what amount of return on their investment they are willing to accept. 

Visit the Center for Rural Pennsylvania’s website at www.ruralpa.org to download and use the protocol. If you are considering whether a wind energy system would be a good investment, I trust that you’ll find this calculator a helpful first-step.

For those who are engaged in various community groups and efforts, you may also find a just-released guide to citizen engagement a very practical resource. That was the Center’s intent with the development of the handbook by Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension.  Researchers Allan Bassler, Kathy Brasier, Neal Fogle and Ron Taverno collaborated to produce Developing Effective Citizen Engagement: A How-To Guide for Community Leaders. 

It is organized around eight steps of a formal citizen engagement plan. Similar in intent to our wind energy siting protocol, this resource is to be a first-step guide in improving community citizen participation. Read more about the guide’s development and how to get a copy in the article on Page 5.

In our newsletter, we always try to give readers a sample of recently completed research as well as relevant data on rural trends and conditions.

There was some good news to report on the rural economy from 2006 to 2007, according to data from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry’s Center for Workforce Information and Analysis. The economic picture for rural Pennsylvania from the first quarter of 2006 to the first quarter of 2007 appeared strong. During that time, rural employment increased by just over 6,000 jobs, more than 2,100 businesses opened their doors, and the average rural weekly wage increased 2 percent, after adjusting for inflation. Check out the complete article on Pages 4 and 5.

Also, don't forget to review the Conferences section on Page 7. There are a great deal of worthwhile conferences taking place over the next several months that may help you in your work and help you to connect with others who share your interests.

Senator John Gordner

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Rural Economic Snapshot: First Quarter 2006 to First Quarter 2007
The economic picture for rural Pennsylvania from the first quarter of 2006 to the first quarter of 2007 appeared strong, according to an analysis by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania. Wages and employment were up, unemployment was down, and the number of business establishments grew throughout most of the state, from the first quarter (January to March) of 2006 to the first quarter of 2007.

For the analysis, the Center used labor force and ES-202 data from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry’s Center for Workforce Information and Analysis.

Employment
In 2007, rural employment was 1.6 million, an increase of 0.4 percent, or 6,067 jobs, from 2006. In urban areas, employment in 2007 was 4.4 million, an increase of 0.7 percent, or 32,300 jobs, from 2006.

Within Pennsylvania, employment growth was not even. Seventeen of the commonwealth’s 67 counties had a decline in employment; all but one of these counties were rural. The rural counties with the largest decline in employment were Cameron, Potter and Elk, each with a decline of roughly 2 percent.

The rural counties with the largest increases in employment were Franklin, Sullivan and Adams, each having an increase of 2 percent or higher. Franklin and Adams counties continued on an upward trend in employment that began between 2005 and 2006. However, employment growth was a new trend in Sullivan County. Between 2005 and 2006, employment in Sullivan County actually declined 2.4 percent.

Nationally, from 2006 to 2007, there was a 2 percent increase in employment.

Unemployment
In 2007, the rural unemployment rate was 5.4 percent. From 2006 to 2007, rural unemployment declined 0.5 percentage points. Unemployment in rural Pennsylvania has steadily fallen over the years. Since the first quarter of 2004, rural unemployment has dropped 1.7 percentage points.

Urban unemployment continues to fall as well. The urban unemployment rate in 2007 was 4.4 percent, a decline of 0.5 percentage points from 2006. Since 2004, urban unemployment has fallen 1.4 percentage points.

Regionally, the lowest unemployment rate was 3.8 percent in south central Pennsylvania, followed by 4.5 percent in southeastern Pennsylvania and 4.9 percent in southwestern Pennsylvania. Statewide, the unemployment rate in Pennsylvania was 4.7 percent, a decline of 0.5 percentage points from 2006.

The counties with the highest unemployment rates in rural Pennsylvania were Bedford, Forest and Potter, each with a rate of 7 percent or higher. Continuing an ongoing trend, Bedford, Forest and Potter counties have held some of the highest rural unemployment rates for several years.

Nationally, in 2007, the unemployment rate did not change from 2006 to 2007, remaining at 5 percent.

Business establishments
In 2007, there were 84,399 rural business establishments, an increase of 3 percent, or 2,156 establishments, from 2006. In urban areas, there were 237,941 business establishments in 2007, an increase of 3 percent, or 7,776 establishments.

Regionally, the largest increase in business establishments was in southeastern Pennsylvania, which experienced a 4 percent increase, or 4,005 business establishments from 2006 to 2007. Northwestern Pennsylvania had the smallest increase in business establishments, with a 2 percent growth rate from 2006 to 2007.  

Within rural Pennsylvania, health care and social service establishments increased 6 percent from 2006 to 2007. Manufacturing increased slightly at 1 percent and there was little to no growth in the number of retail establishments in rural Pennsylvania.
        
Wages
From 2006 to 2007, the inflation rate increased 3 percent. After adjusting for inflation, the average rural weekly wage increased 2 percent from $603 to $615. From 2006 to 2007, after adjusting for inflation, the average urban wage also increased 2 percent from $794 to $810.

Regionally, average weekly wages were highest in southeastern Pennsylvania at $1,017, and lowest in central Pennsylvania at $614.

Nationally, average weekly wages were $842 in 2006 and $884 in 2007. The states with the highest weekly wages were New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts. The states with the lowest weekly wages were Montana, Mississippi, North Dakota and South Dakota. From 2006 to 2007, the nationwide average weekly wage increased 2.4 percent, or $21 after adjusting for inflation.

Within rural Pennsylvania average weekly wages decreased in nine counties and stayed the same in two counties. The two counties that stayed the same were Bedford and Monroe. After adjusting for inflation, out of the 37 counties that had an increase in wages, the largest increases occurred in Fulton and Potter counties. Both counties had increases greater than 10 percent. 

Discussion
When comparing the first quarter of 2006 to the first quarter of 2007, Pennsylvania’s rural economy showed some positive improvements from previous years. Based on this comparison, the following trends were evident in rural Pennsylvania.

Continued Economic Growth
Pennsylvania’s rural economy continued to show some positive growth in all economic areas. Employment increased 0.4 percent, unemployment declined 0.5 percentage points, average rural wages increased 2 percent and the rural economy gained more than 2,000 business establishments. However, recent national reports have indicated this upward trend in economic growth is declining.

Uneven Regional Growth
Economic growth continues to be distributed unevenly throughout Pennsylvania. Southeastern counties are the strongest economically with the highest wages, one of the lowest unemployment rates, and the largest growth in business establishments from 2006 to 2007. Counties in northwestern Pennsylvania continue to struggle. While these counties experienced the greatest increase in wages than any other region in the state, their average weekly wage of $621 is still far below the state average of $671. Northwestern counties also saw the smallest growth in business establishments, with a growth rate of only 2 percent.

Rural Pennsylvania Continues to Lag Behind Urban Counties
From 2006 to 2007, Pennsylvania’s rural counties continued to trail behind their urban counterparts in economic growth. Unemployment in rural counties was 5.4 percent, one percentage point higher than in urban counties. Of the 17 Pennsylvania counties that experienced a decline in employment, all but one were rural. On the upside, the average weekly wages in both rural and urban counties grew at the same rate at roughly 2 percent.

Relationship Between Rural and Urban
Statistically, there was no significant difference between rural and urban counties in employment and the number of business establishments. This suggests that employment and the number of businesses grew at roughly the same rate in both rural and urban counties. There was, however, a significant difference between rural and urban counties in wages and unemployment. That is, wages were higher and unemployment was lower in urban counties than in rural counties. This may suggest that while people in rural counties are working, they are receiving smaller wages.

Health Care Establishments Continue to Grow
In 2007, the number of health care and social service establishments in rural Pennsylvania grew 6 percent, continuing an upward trend from previous years. Between 2005 and 2006, in rural Pennsylvania, health care and social services increased 20 percent. These increases could suggest that Pennsylvania is recognizing the need for increased health care facilities as the state’s population of older adults continues to grow.

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Guide Offers Insights into Effective Citizen Engagement
The Center for Rural Pennsylvania has released a guide that details how organizations in rural communities across Pennsylvania may engage more citizens in the decision making process. Researchers Allan Bassler, Kathy Brasier, Neal Fogle and Ron Taverno of Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension authored Developing Effective Citizen Engagement: A How-To Guide for Community Leaders.

The guide will assist many organizations as they engage citizens and stakeholders in local decision-making and other community projects. Potential users include local elected and appointed officials; leaders of community civic organizations and nonprofit groups; and public service agency representatives.

The guide is organized around eight steps of a formal citizen engagement plan: define the issue; identify the purpose and degree of citizen engagement; identify tools for engaging citizens; identify community groups that need to be involved; develop a plan for recruiting and retaining participants; create a positive environment for citizen engagement; identify evaluation criteria and decide on next steps; and maintain open lines of communication.

The guide is intended to be a first-step in improving community citizen participation.

For a copy of the guide, Developing Effective Citizen Engagement: A How-To Guide for Community Leaders, call the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at (717) 787-9555, email info@ruralpa.org  or visit www.ruralpa.org/reports.html.

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Fast Fact: Percent of Rural Public School Students Eligible for the Free and Reduced School Lunch Program, 1996 to 2007

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Broadband Use in Rural Pennsylvania
How people in rural parts of the commonwealth are using broadband and how it is shaping opportunities for social and economic development were the focus of research conducted in 2005-2006 by Dr. Amy K. Glasmeier, Chris Benner, Chandrani Ohdedar, and Lee Carpenter of Pennsylvania State University.

The research, which was sponsored by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, involved the review of national and state studies on the availability and use of broadband, and the completion of case studies on the four sectors of healthcare, local government, education and business to understand how these sectors use broadband, and more specifically, whether these sectors were engaging in transactional or transformational uses of the Internet.

Transactional use is for common practices, such as using a dictionary or reading the local newspaper, while transformational use actively engages the user to customize information for their personal needs.

The review of national studies indicated that broadband availability is still an issue for many areas of the United States, especially in rural areas. The review of the state study indicated that service cost, and to some extent actual availability, are constraining broadband use.

The case studies revealed that transformational use of the Internet is still in its infancy. Healthcare organizations, local governments, educational institutions and businesses are becoming aware of how broadband-enabled capability can literally change the way they do business. However, using all of the capabilities of broadband requires significant investment by these sectors and, in most cases, would require a large learning curve. The jump would be challenging and costly; and for many in these sectors, it may seem overly challenging and risky.

The researchers point out that, while there is no silver bullet or single solution to the challenge of broadband use, unique solutions may be developed to help the various sectors make full use of broadband’s capabilities.

For a copy of the research results, Broadband Internet Use in Rural Pennsylvania, call the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at (717) 787-9555, email info@ruralpa.org or visit www.ruralpa.org/reports.html.

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Just the Facts: Statewide Change in the Number of Child Abuse Reports
According to the data from the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare’s Annual Child Abuse Reports, from 1996 to 2006, the number of child abuse reports in Pennsylvania decreased from 23,666 to 23,181 reports. From that time period, rural counties saw a decrease of 78 reports and urban counties saw a decrease of 407 reports.

Over the same 10 year time period, there was also a decrease in the number of substantiated reports, or suspected reports that were confirmed. Between 1996 and 2006, there was a 33 percent decrease in the number of substantiated reports in Pennsylvania: rural counties saw a decrease of 23 percent and urban counties 37 percent.

Statewide, there was a decrease in the rate of substantiated reports: for 1996 the substantiation rate was 2.2 reports per 1,000 children, while in 2006, the rate was 1.5 substantiated reports per 1,000 children.

The rate of substantiated reports in rural counties went from 2.1 reports per 1,000 children in 1996 to 1.8 reports in 2006. For urban counties, the rate decreased from 2.2 substantiated reports per 1,000 children in 1996 to 1.4 reports per 1,000 children in 2006.

Accompanying the decrease in substantiated reports was the increase in expenditures for the investigation of suspected child abuse reports.

After adjusting for inflation, the data show that between 1996 and 2006, Pennsylvania saw an increase of 19 percent in total expenditures: rural counties had an increase of 31 percent and urban counties 16 percent.

Statewide in 2006, it cost about  $1,668 to investigate one report of child abuse: in rural areas the cost was about $1,401 per report and in urban counties the cost was about $1, 774 per report.

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