Wind is the fastest growing energy source in the world, yet it has struggled for acceptance in the United States. In southwest Minnesota, however, wind energy is a burgeoning source of local power and income for farmers. Some have joined forces in wind cooperatives to invest in larger farms and reap bigger profits. In the absence of a strong renewable energy policy at the federal level, the state government plays a key role in wind policy, begging the question: Will the rest of the U.S. follow Minnesota's lead?

Harvesting the Wind
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Founder and executive director of the non-profit advisory organization Windustry, Lisa Daniels works closely with farmers, elected officials and utilities to educate them about wind energy. She is also a partner in the U.S. Department of Energy's Wind Powering America (WPA) initiative, which promotes the development of wind farms and other clean energy industries to boost local economies, and has received WPA awards for her regional wind advocacy and community outreach efforts.


A wind turbine design expert, Dan Juhl has owned and operated the Woodstock Wind Farm in southwestern Minnesota since 1993. Built on a local farming family's property, his 10MW wind farm produces 29,000 MWh per year and is a model for community wind farming. Spurred by his success with Woodstock, Juhl travels the state to promote wind-friendly legislation and help farmers and local groups to build their own community wind farms.


A leading reporter on energy and the environment, Amanda Griscom Little writes's "Muckraker" column on environmental politics and Outside Magazine's "Code Green" column. Her work, which includes interviews with Rupert Murdoch, Robert Redford and Bill Richardson, has appeared in Rolling Stone, Wired, Vanity Fair and The New York Times Magazine. Currently, Griscom-Little is working on Power Trip, a book that tracks America's energy evolution.


The governor of Minnesota since 2003, Republican Tim Pawlenty believe building renewable energy can help boost America's stagnating rural economies. His passed legislation includes mandates that renewable energies comprise at least a quarter of Minnesota's energy portfolio by 2025 and that the minimum mixture of ethanol (a plant-based biofuel) in gasoline be raised from 10 percent to 20 percent. Pawlenty's administration plans to add 800 MW of community-based wind energy to state's electrical system by 2010.


Dennis Schultz is the COO of the Suzlon Rotor Corporation, a subsidiary of Suzlon Energy Limited (SEL) of Pune, India. Under Schultz's leadership, Suzlon opened a plant in Pipestone, MN, in 2006 that employs hundreds of trained local craftsman to manufacture state-of-the-art wind turbine blades and nose cones. The plant also reduces the cost of shipping in products from overseas and boosts the growing wind energy industry in Minnesota, which currently has more than 60 Suzlon wind turbine units in use.

David Sparby is acting president and CEO of Northern States Power Company-Minnesota, an Xcel Energy company and a major Minnesota electricity and natural gas supplier. Gov. Tim Pawlenty recently appointed Sparby, along with 50 other industry and community leaders, to the Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group (MCCAG), an initiative tasked with identifying ways for Minnesota to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and revitalize its economy. He also serves as on the external advisory council of the University of Minnesota Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment.

Wind is the fastest growing energy resource in the world, and global wind energy production has more than quadrupled in the last seven years. Domestically, wind power has the potential to meet one and a half times the U.S.'s electricity demand, but to date, only accounts for half a percent of the country's electricity production.

A former global leader, the U.S. built thousands of small wind turbines in the 1930s and 1940s to power rural areas. But as regional power grids were expanded into these communities, state and federal interest in wind power receded sharply. Western Europe, meanwhile, has made wind a staple of its energy portfolio. Germany, Spain and particularly Denmark - which meets 20 percent of its electricity demand with wind - continue to pull ahead in advancements and application.

While wind energy's advocates have cited the absence of federal leadership as a key reason for wind's limited acceptance in the U.S., the federal government has largely delegated wind policy to the states. One state, Minnesota, is developing an enterprising model for America's wind energy future. With the support of Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), Minnesota is pioneering the idea of community wind: farmer- and community member-owned wind turbine farms that are financed by smaller loans and third-party investors. Rural farmers set aside private land, then finance and construct wind turbines that produce power, which the state's utilities purchase.

Concentrated in the southwestern Buffalo Ridge region, Minnesota's burgeoning wind industry developed, unexpectedly enough, from a nuclear power plant. In 1994, the state's largest utility, Northern States Power, sought permission to store more nuclear waste from its Prairie Island reactors. The public outcry forced the state legislature to act, passing legislation that made NSP's nuclear waste storage contingent upon its investment in 550 megawatts of renewable energy. And so, Minnesota's first large-scale wind power investment was born.

The community wind initiative is both environmentally sustainable and an economic lifeline for the rural areas it touches. It provides a new, stable source of income for farmers and has created new industry and skilled labor demand in a region where job growth is slow. Gov. Pawlenty has announced plans to add 800 megawatts of community-based wind energy to state's electrical system by 2010, and more than 25 percent of Minnesota's wind energy is now locally owned.


The father of the community wind farm, Dan Juhl built his Woodstock Wind Farm in 1998 on 320 acres of land he leased from brothers Roger and Richard Kas, farmers in the Buffalo Ridge region. His wind farm's 17 turbines produce enough energy - 29,000 megawatt hours - to power about 3,500 homes a year. Seeing Woodstock's success, local farmers and land owners turned to Juhl, a 25-year veteran of the wind industry, to help them to construct their own wind farms. Providing construction expertise and guidance on pooling land and monetary resources, Juhl has helped create 130 megawatts of community wind farms throughout the region in the last few years.


Inspired by the Woodstock Wind Farm's success, the Kas brothers constructed their own wind farm, the state's first farmer-owned project, in 2000. Built on nearby farmland, the brothers enlisted Juhl to construct their 1.5 megawatt wind farm. Its construction and subsequent success encouraged several other local farmers to follow suit.


Another Juhl project, the Bingham Lake Wind Farm is a 15-megawatt community wind farm that went online in 2006. The 12-turbine farm is jointly owned by 12 members, who host one turbine each on their properties. Marty and Patty Espenson, co-owners of the farm, warmed to the idea of wind energy after a poor farming season. They hired Juhl to consult and brought in friends and neighbors, who offered additional land and financing. With one wind turbine costing up to $2 million, wind farmers typically take out individual loans and then seek outside equity from larger investors, who receive tax credits in return. Under the model Juhl helped create, the farmers eventually buy out the outside investors and become majority owners. Selling their generated energy to Alliance Power, the Espensons returned their initial investment in just over a year and hope to pay out the larger third-party investors within 10 years.


In 2006, India's largest turbine manufacturer, Suzlon Corporation, opened its first U.S.-based turbine factory in Pipestone, Minn., the heart of the state's community wind region. Built to reduce overseas shipping costs and meet the area's growing need for wind turbines, the new plant will produce 300 sets of rotor blades a year and provides more than 300 local workers with skilled, well-paying jobs. Local demand is still greater than production, and Suzlon plans to triple its output in three years, expanding the workforce and eventually adding more manufacturing plants - all a major economic boost to the area.


NARRATOR [MORGAN FREEMAN]: Was it a conscious decision, or a momentary lapse of reason? How did progress take priority over humankind? Could harnessing the world's energy that allowed our ascent now be the lynchpin of our downfall? Could it be we are connected to all living things in the universe, not the center of it? That decisions in Washington affect the mountain glaciers of Peru, deforestation in the Amazon affects the heat waves of Paris, that power plants in China affect air quality in Los Angeles. It's about facing what seem to be insurmountable challenges for what they really are: opportunities, to reinvent and redesign. E Squared: The economies of being environmentally conscious.




RADIO DJ: And time for the 7:20 weather report. Here this morning on 98 Country for southern Minnesota expect partly cloudy, windy conditions again here today. Our high right around 55 degrees, those winds out of the northwest fifteen to twenty-five and gusty and then tomorrow expecting a partly cloudy sky high of 57.

DAN JUHL: Small town America is-is literally dying on the vine. Because, uh, people are moving more to the city where there is economic opportunity and, uh, out here we have farming and then the spin off businesses from farming and, uh, you see more and more abandoned farm places. Where, what we are doing with wind energy is were adding another cash crop. That can put a fair amount of money back into our community, and once you put money back into the community like that it rotates and evolves around several times before it leaves. I mean, the hardware store guy and the grocery store guy and the gas station guy; they all get a piece of the action.

NARRATOR [MORGAN FREEMAN]: The winds of Southwest Minnesota have buffeted, cajoled, and embraced its rural inhabitants for years. Could they also save a small town way of life, at the same time, address a global energy crisis?

AMANDA GRISCOM LITTLE: We're talking about a resource that is now producing about .5 percent or less of the electricity in the United States and a resource that has the potential to produce one and a half times the entire US electricity demand there's massive potential for this technology to scale in the United States, the more we see the advantages of it on an emotional, political, environmental, and economic level your going to see it scale.

LISA DANIELS: Wind energy is the fastest growing energy resource in the world. It started here in the US, but then we had about a decade of no energy policy at all, so all of the technology and all of the advances were coming out of Denmark and Germany.

AMANDA GRISCOM LITTLE: The US is not only behind Europe in terms of its adoption of wind. It's behind Europe in terms of its production of wind turbines. I think there's, um, a leadership position that Europe is taking in the wind industry, um, as a producer, and um, there's, uh, an enthusiasm around wind in the communities as consumers.

NARRATOR [MORGAN FREEMAN]: What would it take for enthusiasm for wind to take hold in rural Minnesota? Ironically, the answer was nuclear waste. In 1994 lawmakers hotly debated whether to allow the state's largest utility to store more nuclear waste at its Prarie Island Nuclear plant. They finally agreed to the storage, if the utility invested in 550 megawatts of renewable energy. Minnesota's first large-scale investment in wind power was born.

GOVERNOR TIM PAWLENTY: In the past and currently Minnesota gets a large majority of its energy from outside of Minnesota, and that gives us a economic disadvantage but it also puts us on a energy pathway towards the past when we want to be looking towards the future for a whole bunch of reasons, so that's why we're pushing renewable energy hard. We try though to promote what we call community based wind energy where farmers can have a value added investment opportunity or individuals or community members or cooperatives of those kinds of individuals can come together to own it so its not just large corporations coming in and taking over the industry like the oil industry.

LISA DANIELS: Community wind energy is where there is local participation in the ownership of the wind projects. Where there's small groups of farmers or local citizens that have pulled their funds and put together the wind project. They have a significant stake in how that energy is owned and operated. This is important because more of the economic benefits can stay local if there's local ownership.

DAN JUHL: We did some studies early on and we started looking at this in more detail, thinking well what is the difference between community owned wind and out of country ownership, and the results of those studies were that someplace between five and ten times the value for a community to own it because when we develop a project we use local contractors. As opposed to the others they mobilize big companies in from somewhere and they do the construction and then they leave.

LISA DANIELS: It's not just a large, external, corporate entity coming into an area saying, "I know what you need right over here. You need a hundred commercial scale wind turbines," and we'll have all of the Wall Street investors receive all the benefits and you guys will get, you know, two percent of the gross revenue.

DAN JUHL: We export about seventy-five million dollars a year to foreign companies, because they come in and own these wind farms and so community based development was standing up and saying, "wait a minute there's another way to develop our natural resources where we can leverage this into long term economic development and long term economic viability for our rural communities. Which really need it.

LISA DANIELS: The place where Minnesota stands out, head and shoulders above everyone else is with community wind and with the local entities owning these projects. More than twenty-five percent of the wind energy that's installed in Minnesota today is locally owned. This is a big deal.

DAN JUHL: This farm, Woodstock, I developed this in '98. And It came online in 1999 and its seventeen of the Vesta V forty-four's, and from this little farm we produce enough energy for about thirty-five hundred homes a year. I was looking around for a spot to put a wind farm, and so I found this spot that we're on and this is owned by the Kas family and when I pulled into their yard and told them what I was thinking about doing. They thought I was a little bit crazy, but they were very amenable to the idea, (01:08:13) and they thought it would be great and I can remember Grandpa Kas just kind of going, "Yeah sure. Whatever you think" and uh, yeah, it was pretty great, and they stuck with me. It took me quite a few years to get through the process at them, because I was literally the first privately owned wind farm, uh, that I knew of at that time. (01:08:09)

KAS BROTHER [RIGHT]: When Dan started looking for land and land lease it kind of wasn't accepted real well you know. Fifteen, eighteen years ago people were looking at, was it going to work but then as it goes and it starts working now everybody accepted it see.

DAN JUHL: I pay them a portion of my land rent and uh, after a few years of operation they came up and said, 'Boy this works pretty good doesn't it.' I said, 'Yeah, it works good.' And so they said, 'Do you think we can do this?' And so I thought, you know, I think we can do this. And so, uh, I endeavored to talk to the utility about a power contract for a small project. Cause they just wanted to do a couple machines. They just wanted to supplement and diversify their farm a little bit, in, in this new cash crop. And so uh, we completed the process on theirs and we installed two micons seven-fifty's for them and, uh, that became part of their farming operation.

KAS BROTHER [RIGHT]: And they said it would never happen, a farmer would never get towers, would never happen. Well, it went on. It was one year, it was two years, three years, and I still didn't get them. But finally we got them. Like I said to Dan, we can't quit now, we got to finish it because, hey, people said I can't do it, I gotta do it, so I did it. Well we got it done I guess.

LISA DANIELS: Dan Juhl had the knowledge about how to develop the wind project and he leased their land but he also shared the knowledge he had with them so that they could put a project together themselves. He would be the first to admit that there's nothing about community wind energy development that's easy. Nothing in this industry is standardized. Whether you want to buy one machine, or a 100 machines. It's very helpful to have somebody who's already developed a wind project or who knows the industry.

KAS BROTHER [RIGHT]: Well now once the towers went up, well everybody wanted towers but before that they always look at you, "that ain't going to happen, you won't get it, just for the big boys." But once I got it done, now everybody wants them.

DAN JUHL: I mean, people were lined up on the highway watching us put them up and, uh, and uh, couple of the neighbors that I had talked to were going, "Hey, are you going to do any more of this? And can you put them on our land?" And it just kind of built from that, and then, through that process we learned how to aggregate farmers together into groups which gives you buying power. And so instead of putting two over there, and two over there, and two over there, we get those same farmers and small business people together and we built a larger project in one spot that allows us to take advantages of economies of scale.

MARTY ESPENSON: I think in June of 2002, we, uh, we signed on with Dan Juhl. We agreed to start kind of a feasibility type study with him and he had, he ran some numbers and did some wind study and kind of got the process started. We had a transmission line, which is good. We had a land-base, which is good. He said we were close to the Windhym Airport. That put up a red flag. So he says, "Before we get too excited we're going to, we're going to scope that out." There was trouble there, so then only four of the towers could end up on Patty and my land. So then at that point we talked with Jim Harter. He's a neighbor a mile down the road, he had a large land base there with a hill on it too and uh that's, how Jim and Trent got involved and they each ended up with a tower out of that deal and then uh the remaining six are friends and neighbors and turned out to be twelve towers.

DAN JUHL: Normally if you've got a decent wind site and you've got a power line on it for a place to get rid of the crop and uh, uh, an interested buyer for the crop, you can get it done.

MARTY ESPENSON: The twelve towers are all connected and uh, go to our sub-station and then from the sub-station it's metered and sold into Alliance power line. Okay, so all the energy produced from the twelve big towers is sold.

PATTY ESPENSON: It's based off of what the utility charges us and if they raise the cost of their price then they raise the cost of the price that they buy from us as well...

MARTY ESPENSON: Yup, yup, so it's a neat little fit for us.

GOVERNOR TIM PAWLENTY: Well our laws are geared toward cooperatives of individuals, coming together to jointly own something. That's what we largely did with the ethanol industry and we are trying to encourage that with some specific tax incentives in the wind energy production area as well.

DAN JUHL: We've done probably a 130 megawatts of community owned wind farms in the last few years which is probably about 165, 170, million dollars worth of economic activity and we keep thirteen million dollars a year in the communities then we've been able to figure out different models on how to do it, to get them financed and to get it done. I mean, to me, I think it's the greatest thing since the invention of the tractor for rural communities.

GOVERNOR TIM PAWLENTY: The best way to predict the future is to go invent it and we got an environment here where people are in love with this and understand it and want to do it and so it gives us public policy momentum.

NARRATOR [MORGAN FREEMAN]: Traditional power grids are set up around traditional power generation sites. With renewable energy and its intermittent power generartion coming online in rural areas, the grid must be updated to keep up with the energy supply.

DAVID SPARBY: When we look at developing wind in places like southwestern Minnesota, uh that grid network was developed uh much more sparcely and with much less voltage capability and transforability in mind, and not seeing southwestern Minnesota and North and South Dakota as potential generating sites that grid is going to have to be beefed up to allow all the power to get to the load centers like Minneapolis St. Paul, and hopefully places like Milwaukee, Chicago, and further points east in the future. We are truly on the frontier here and, and the challenge of standardizing those contracts and ensuring that they have the lowest cost financing, ensuring, uh, the parts and maintenance are delivered uh when required is something that we are all still working to refine.

LISA DANIELS: One of these machines, just one commercial scale machine, cost upwards of two million dollars. So you need a return on investment, and right now, in this country, just the sale of electrons is not enough.

DAN JUHL: The Federal government has what is called the federal production tax credit, uh, it's very difficult for farmers and small business people to utilize that credit because of the rules. It's subject to passive rules and, uh, alternative minimum tax rules. And so, uh, in most cases what we do is partner the farmers up with an equity partner who can utilize those tax credits to the extent that the farmer can't. And so the farmer basically makes money off of a small percentage of the total ownership of the project for the first ten years plus he gets paid a management fee to manage the project for the first ten years, and then after that, the ownership structure flips back to the farmer where he ends up owning the machines at the end of the project.

MARTY ESPENSON: So we took out a loan for our portion of it and then equity player came up with the rest of the money and they're basically, they're, getting their payoff back in the tax credits and, uh, hopefully after ten years it flips out and they turn into the one percent and we turn into the ninety-nine.

PATTY ESPENSON: They've been up now just for a little over a year and we'll have our full investment already back from them. So it has been a good investment opportunity for us.

LISA DANIELS: With wind energy what you see is what you get. Some people are saying "Not in my backyard" about looking at those wind turbines and having them be on the landscape. But, if you know where your energy comes from then you have a different perspective on how you use that energy.

DAN JUHL: We are kind of taking it to, uh, hog farming, you know. Some people say, "Wow, that smells", and other people say, "Oh that smells like money to me" and that's because they have an economic interest in it and we're seeing that in community based development people look at windmills a whole different way if they have an economic interest in it.

GOVERNOR TIM PAWLENTY: Well one aspect to the renewable energy debate is the promise and ho pe it brings back to rural America. Through the chance to get economic development and capitol investment back into areas that are, you know, having demographic decline, job-based decline, tax-based decline, and obviously people aren't going to stay in parts of our country unless they have access to a job or an economic opportunity. So we have to find other ways to keep people economically invested in rural America and renewable energy is a great way to do that.

NARRATOR [MORGAN FREEMAN]: That economic interest especially pertains to the large number of young people who feel they must leave rural America for better opportunities in the city. Community-based wind power is creating an economically viable future for the next generation. Dan Juhl, is happy that next generation includes his son, Tyler.

TYLER JUHL: Yeah, she got so hot, look at that, I mean, look at, she's bubbling. We'll have to go up there and push that centrifical back in.

LISA DANIELS: If these projects are locally owned, more often than not, there's local labor that's maintaining these machines. It's a desirable job, it's a skilled job, and it's well paying.

TYLER JUHL: My favorite part is probably the, uh, the scenery once you get up here and also it's a very fulfilling job, I mean, you're working on a machine that creates energy, clean green energy produced for the masses, I mean, just, it's a great feeling, doing something that good. With community based energy it all stays here and that's all that matters and if each state could do that, have their own resources, have their own income stream through wind, or solar or whatever it is, that's a huge plus for the state.

FARMER: Online making bacon...

DAN JUHL: Some of the turbines we've been using from Suzlon, um, we convinced them that, that they could build a blade factory here and Tulsy Tanti, the chairman, and I talked about it and he said, "Well if you can get the state and the communities involved in this ownership model which will drive the development, then we'll bring a factory here." And so, we did and they did. And right now in Pipestone there's a factory building rotor blades, employs 300 people, which is a lot for a small community like Pipestone.

DENNIS SCHULTZ: The plant is configured to make the blades for the, uh, 2.1 S-88 machine and that's the largest machine that Suzlon presently makes. The plant has three production lines and our target is to make a set of blades per day, uh 900 blades a year, 300 sets and we plan to double the output of this plant within uh three years. So in 2010 we plan to double the output. So the demand locally is still greater than the capacity of this plant.

JIM PETERSON: We run seven days a week. Twenty-four hours, seven days a week. So, to facilitate our seven-day schedule we have about 320 employed team members on the floor. You know, this is a rural area, this is big stuff to these folks. Suzlon is very good at vertical integration so we own most of the companies that make the generators and the towers and those types of things. This is the start. Rotor blades are difficult to ship so this is the first thing we are going to do here. Will it be the last thing? Absolutely not.

DENNIS SCHULTZ: We've advertised the positions as a career opportunity. We talk about having future generations of blade builders here locally and its nice to see young people get involved in industry versus working in service jobs, something they can really sink their teeth into. This area has the possibility to be a composite technology center and possibly in the future we'll have suppliers here locally of the products that we use.

NARRATOR [MORGAN FREEMAN]: How could a wind enthusiast and a group of farmers bring a international high tech manufacturing plant to southwest Minnesota? Where was the federal government?

AMANDA GRISCOM LITTLE: In the absence of, of federal leadership on renewable energy. In the absence of a federal mandate to produce a certain percentage of U.S. electricity from renewable resources, you're seeing a groundswell of political support on a state level for renewable energy production and states are actually incentivizing communities to develop more renewable energy. And there's certainly a political movement at a local level and communities are up in arms, cities are up in arms, states are up in arms, and they are coming up with solutions.

DAN JUHL: You know I've heard many times over the years utilities go, "Well, if you didn't have subsides for that wind power it really wouldn't be working." Well, if we didn't heavily subsidize coal and nuclear energy, that wouldn't be working either. And so, uh, if I had my druthers, I'd like to eliminate all energy subsides and then see what market wins but that's not reality in today's world.

GOVERNOR TIM PAWLENTY: Well the great news here is that the country has reached a tipping point on energy and I wish we had done it thirty years ago but I'm glad that we at least have done it now. The public is way ahead of the politicians on this stuff. I'm glad that we are now finally scrambling to dramatically catch-up. Ideally, the federal government would be moving and leading in this area more dramatically, they haven't been doing that so it falls to the states and we're glad to do it. It's one of the reasons we have states, is to be the laboratories of democracy, to be innovators, we can move a little quicker, a little more nimbly than the federal government and hopefully they'll follow our lead and we'll see Congress follow us in this regard or at least help us.

NARRATOR [MORGAN FREEMAN]: William Arthur Ward once said, "The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjust the sales." For the people of southwest Minnesota, being the realist just meant being open to a new way of doing things and in turn, showing us the way.

RADIO DJ: The crops in Fairboe County are in pretty good shape when compared to some of the crops in the upper Midwest. The windy conditions this spring, has created some problems for those wanting to spray their crops.

MARTY ESPENSON: I'll tell you, I hated wind. It blows your hat off; it blows the seat corn bags across the field. It, it, you can't spray, it's too windy to spray but I like the wind now.


DAN JUHL: I think obviously we all want to do everything we can to produce domestically produced energy and I think that's what's driving a lot of the politics of today. Everybody's starting to realize, boy we need to get our arms around this or we're in trouble. I mean, to me, energy is the Achilles' heel of the United States of America and if we don't get our, get ourselves figured out on how we can control that and deal with it on a long term basis, what are we leaving our kids besides a polluted mess?

AMANDA GRISCOM LITTLE: I think communities in America right now are wanting to rally around patriotic solutions and um, wanting to find a way to solve both, our geo-political problems, our environmental problems, and our economic problems all at once. Communities are seeing a solution they can all rally around together. They can say we're doing something good for the country, and they can say we are creating a um source of income for our, for our community, all at once. I mean, it's a win, win, win, win.

DAN JUHL: Community wind is the trifecta of renewable energy. You get clean, sustainable energy. You get economic development and economic viability for the rural communities that the projects are in, and you get long-term, low-cost energy because the cost of energy with wind power is the cost of capital to put the machine in the ground and so our communities will have long-term cheap energy. You know the 70's we had the philosophical mindset to do it, we didn't have the technical where with all to do it. Now we've developed the technical where with all and the philosophy is coming back again and so this time I think its going take it over the top, when you have the philosophical drive and the technical ability, that's when things happen.


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Harvesting the Wind

Episode Trailer 0:30 min

Harvesting the Wind

Episode Excerpt 3:00 min