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Science and Health:
Transcript: Wind Power Now
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Michael Noble

MICHAEL NOBLE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ME3: What if Jack Kennedy had said in 1960, he said, "You know, what about maybe going to the moon someday? That might be interesting." Instead he said, "We're gonna put a man on the moon, we're gonna do it by the end of this decade. We're gonna corral the resources of this country to do it." And, sure enough, by July 1969 a man walked on the moon."

I'm Michael Noble and I'm the Executive Director of a public interest group in St. Paul, Minnesota. We're called Minnesotans for an Energy Efficient Economy, ME3. And our job is to work with all the different groups, to help change the rules of the game, to move public policy, to clean up our energy system.

People always ask, "Well, how do you make electricity? Where does electricity come from?" They think it comes from the electric outlet. And it's really actually not very complicated. You just need to spin a turbine. Make a turbine turn. That's how electricity's made. So, you can turn a turbine with hydropower. And you can make that steam by burning coal, or burning natural gas, or-splitting atoms. But you can also turn a turbine by putting it up on a tower in a windy place. It's a pretty simply way to make electricity.

DAN JUHL, PRESIDENT, WOODSTOCK WIND FARMS: We can compete with the conventional fuels-today, especially if you put-the real price of energy on the table-renewable energy is-is by far cheaper. The cost of renewable energy is the cost of capital to put the machine in the ground. There's no fuel, there's no pollution, there's no storage of waste. There's none of the other bones that rattle in the fossil fuel closet. Farming wind energy can be just like farming any other cash crop. And the-like-the technology is ready to do that.

We our own wind farm, and we manage that on a daily basis - 10.2 megawatts. Then we also manage for other players-other companies-- 33 machines on the north end of the Buffalo Ridge. And lately we've been helping farmers and small businesses get into wind power, farming wind as a cash crop and helping them diversify their farms and creating new forms of income.

ROGER KAS, KAS BROTHERS WIND FARM, WOODSTOCK, MN: I'm Roger Kas and we farm about 12-15 hundred acres in this area of Woodstock MN. Ten years ago when Dan came to us, and we start working with him, help build his towers and help build a few more towers, and I always kept saying to myself-"Hey, it'd be nice if I could have a couple towers for myself. Why can't us farmers own 'em, be farmer-owned?"

MICHAEL NOBLE: Let's-let's say a farmer has a good-sized farm. It's not an enormous farm. But it's a good-sized farm. And let's say they just put two wind turbines on their land. That would take up less than a quarter a percent of the land. It wouldn't take any land out of production at all. But it might be in the range of 30, 40 percent of their income.

JIM NICHOLS, FARMER, LINCOLN COUNT, MN: I farmed here on the Buffalo Ridge in Southwest Minnesota my entire life. And if you're a farmer, there's one thing you know for sure. The wind blows.

And one of our problems here in Lincoln County, we're the poorest county in the state. We were the poorest county in the state.

DAN JUHL: The financing is available for these machines as long as you have a buyer for the commodity, somebody that will buy the electricity. The-the machines are financable. And they can-literally turn-turn tables for the farmer to go from close to bankruptcy to becoming a viable economic entity because of the-the-the revenue streams that these things will generate.

JIM NICHOLS: Now with the wind turbines, our economy has improved dramatically. This is a chance to produce a product that we can sell to the-to the big cities and it's a crop that we get to marketplace at the speed of light. New York City is an instant away from the electricity from these turbines. And I believe that 50 years from now, one-third of all the power in America, including New York and all of the East Coast, will come from wind energy, because it's cheap and it's renewable.

DAN JUHL: You have to remember that our competitors are the largest monopolies in the world. And-they really didn't think it was in anybody's best interest for people to produce their own energy. And wind power represents, and renewable energy basically represents-a dispersed generation source. They-you really can't put a fence around it and-and claim it.

MICHAEL NOBLE: Over half of America's electricity comes from the burning of coal. Most Americans aren't even aware that coal burning is a major part of their electricity. The American coal industry, and the American oil industry, dominate government today. And the American people need to hear that, and the American people need to do something about that.

DAN JUHL: Well, renewable energy is not ready at this point in time to take out coal. But it can be a v-a very viable part of the mix. And a long term goal to eventually wean ourselves of fossil fuels. We have all of the resources here to do that. We have wind, we have solar, we have bio-fuels. We have all of the tools-to do it.

JIM NICHOLS: There were three arguments against wind energy, actually four. The first one was that they, aesthetically, they were ugly. They're beautiful. I mean, they're absolutely beautiful. And we think that not just because they help us earn income as farmers, but they are beautiful. The second one was that it was expensive energy. That's not true at all. We're now producing it for 3.3 cents. It's the cheapest new energy in America. The third one was that they're noisy. "Come and listen." And the fourth one was that it would kill birds. We actually conducted a year-long study, by South Dakota State University, and in that one year period, not a single bird was killed. We did find two bats that were killed. And we feel bad. But we're gonna get along without those two bats.

DAVID BENSON, COUNTY COMMISIONER, NOBLES, MN: The real challenge-after you kind of get over the excitement of the technology is how do we integrate it into our society? But what we really-what really could do is by pooling our resources from local people, I think we'd have the opportunity to each benefit. If they felt connected to it. And were-were making some money-from it. We've got a lot of potential-for real community based-and community owned wind energy. I think people would accept-wind towers, if they-if they had a stake in it.

ROGER KAS: Well I kind of felt you know all these big companies come in like Enron, and there's got to be a profit or else they wouldn't be doing it, so I more or less said, hey why can't we get 'em smaller and have farmers get involved in it, instead of having the big companies, own 'em, and then all the money goes from here to Florida or Texas and out of the district? Keep more of it local and keep it here.

MICHAEL NOBLE: Wind power's not a liberal issue, or a progressive issue. Wind power is a-is an economic issue. It's a-issue of-of-development. It's a issue of-opportunity. Those are pretty traditional American values.

JIM NICHOLS: As farmers we need to get the story out that wind energy is cheap energy, and that it'll be here forever. We don't know for sure, but we think the wind was blowing here a million years ago. And we think it'll be blowing a million years into the future.

MICHAEL NOBLE: I want to see a national, renewable energy standard, where the United States Congress-passes it, and the President signs it into a law that 20 percent of America's electricity comes from renewable power in the next two decades.

And what we need is we need a leader who's going to say to us, "This country needs to lead the world to a new energy economy that's not based on fossil fuels."

It's not gonna do the whole job, it's not a silver bullet. But there's no reason why wind power can't be a major, major part of the solution.

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