Friday, April 19, 2013

How To Advance Wind Energy In The Midwest

While you won’t find a bigger supporter of wind energy than yours truly, I’m well documented on my preference for local owned wind farms over the utility scale, absentee owned wind farms that prevail so far in our state. I haven’t been afraid to point out when issues –problems arise with the current wind farm business model in Iowa. 

I was recently contacted by a reporter who wants to do an interview about my experience leasing some of my farmland to a wind farm developer. That developer built one of the largest wind farms in Iowa, which was purchased by MidAmerican energy. I had a pretty miserable experience dealing with several issues because of the easement I granted the utility (subject of a future post), in addition to the latest attempt to get MEC to be more transparent about the property tax issue I’ve been researching. Because of this, I sincerely doubt I would lease my land to another absentee wind developer again. In fact, I’ve formed a business that aims to help farmers build their own wind projects, and help them make decisions when approached by wind developers. 

Anyway, back to the reporter. While I was thinking about this interview and potentially putting her in touch with some locals who are really unhappy with this project (with some very valid reasons, subject of that future post), I came across this post from Midwestenergynews . Before that, it was this one ... and  this one.  Frankly, anyone with an internet connection can see that wind energy is catching pretty heavy flak.  From local push back to political opposition, when it comes to wind policy on the federal and state level, the public is reading some very negative things about wind energy, and most of them have no personal experience with wind to form their own opinions. And since most folks only experience comes from leasing land to wind developers, their opinions are formed by how well that developer performs. 

And gosh... if you have to look at or farm around someone’s absentee owned wind project, locals can have some ambivalent or downright poor opinions of utility scale wind.  County supervisors and economic development offices love wind farms, and get so excited about incoming development , that they sometimes forget to watch over the interests of the folks already living in the development area, for fear of appearing too restrictive to the big wind boys.   Add on that about 1% of wind farm gross revenue stays in the local economy the way Iowa currently builds wind, and it’s kind of easy to see why locals push back. 

So, the renewable wind industry, which I care deeply about, is really having issues. On one side, there is an increasingly vocal local opposition to wind, some with valid concerns, and some not so valid. I haven’t dug into to this much, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the anti-wind talking points are ginned up by fossil fuel funded entities that like things just the way they are now, thank you very much. I’m not in the “no wind” crowd, as I think renewable energy is one of the best rural development opportunities Iowa has ever had.  I think rather than saying “no wind”, these advocates should be burning legislator’s ears about forming policy for locally owned wind, because we are going to develop our renewable resources in this country. The only thing that’s up for discussion is how great a job we will do with the opportunity in front of us.  

I’m not going to let the “pro wind” advocates off easy here either. I know most of Iowa’s renewable advocates personally. These are some pretty smart folks (a lot of PHDs here). I meet with them frequently. They don’t want to hear it when I raise issues with renewable energy development in Iowa.   I’ve invited all of them to visit my home town and meet some of the locals and hear their concerns, so they can do their job better. None of them have made a visit yet. Some of them get a lot of funding from national energy groups, who dearly want some more renewable energy in this country. They think enough education will build adequate public support for renewable policy in the U.S.  

Which brings me to the part where I will try to make a point.  Of the many renewable energy conferences I attend, I still remember one above all.  A feed in tariff conference organized by John Farrell and the gang from the Institute of local Self Reliance. They brought in a German farmer and posed a lot of these issues to him. He just chuckled, and mentioned that Germans had already had all these discussions a decade ago. Germany wanted to drastically increase renewable energy, and adopted policy that would make farmers and other citizen’s major players. That in turn educated the general population on renewable energy, and also built bulletproof support for keeping renewable policy in place.   
I’ll add a couple slides from this presentation by German farmer Michael Diestel, please check the link.  The Germans will be pretty frank with you about how to increase wind energy in the U.S. 


   I’ll close with a quote by Max Planck-  “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”
I'm hoping that renewable advocates here don’t wait for the next generation to advance renewable policy.  
I decided to send the reporter a link to this post and see where the conversation goes from there. 

 A couple of fresh articles on this issue , courtesy of Midwest Energy News. 
Landowners in Kansas are resisting a new transmission line & An Illinois county argues about wind zoning.    

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