The following an excerpt from a book dealing with legislative innovation and the benefits wind power can bring about to rural communities. We are not talking large wind farms but a distributive network of one or two turbine per property so everyone benefits.
Authors William McDonough and Michael Braungart seek a world that is full of clean air, water, soil and power. In their latest ecological manifesto, The Upcycle (North Point Press, 2013), that is precisely the goal they envision.
Dan Juhl, who understands farm life from his own childhood in Woodstock, Minnesota, has been creating profitable business arrangements to encourage this kind of small-scale wind-plant cooperative. Often big utilities and energy buyers enter a community to negotiate the cheapest price for land and end up pitting one farmer against another. One farmer becomes the winner and all the others get left out. Instead, Juhl, through his Juhl Wind Inc., brings together a group of farmers to invest in a common future.
Wind Is The New Cash Crop.
For a set rate of return, an outside investor injects significant capital to fund the larger construction costs. As the tax incentives and revenue accrue from producing and selling electricity, the investor is paid out his or her return. In ten years, when the investors have achieved their goals for financial return, the ownership of the wind turbines transfers to the farmers, who can use and sell the energy produced. The wind turbines become the capital real estate of the local residents, producing “currency” for the perpetuation of jobs and benefits to the local community for decades.
The result? Wind turbines dot the Great Plains, local family farmers earn enough for their mortgages and their kids’ college educations—and a new industry, renewable power, is created in places where we need power. The investor is happy too, because the guaranteed return has been paid out in full. The dispersed wind turbines make a more pleasant visual for the neighbors. Wind is the new cash crop.
School Buses and Energy Storage
Another issue with wind has been how to store the energy produced, not just sell it to the grid. This issue has sparked creativity and innovation. One of our favorite small-scale proposals involves using wind turbines to help solve a pressing rural problem. In farming regions, school authorities have been having difficulty affording school buses to pick up children each day. The farms are too far apart, and the fuel gets expensive. But of course everyone wants their kids to be able to live on the farms, for the parents not to have to trade in their lives as farmers simply to be sure their kids can be educated.
Juhl’s solution is to install small wind turbines, an optimized design, at community centers in the Midwest and use these centers to power up electric buses. These vehicles require less maintenance because there is no need to change spark plugs or oil, as with internal combustion engines. The buses deploy in the morning and the late afternoon. The rest of the time they are sitting idle. But what if that time were optimized? What if, when parked, waiting, the buses were getting charged by the sun and by the wind?
The wind would actually be healing the community. The children could still be at home on the farms, and the buses could fetch them for their school day. The community would have optimized around a local resource for concentrated energy instead of farmers sending their money far away to the Middle East looking for fossil fuels that are insecure and might inspire even military intervention. Or instead of spending their money on nonlocal sources in Pennsylvania or Alberta, they could collect the clean, free, abundant energy flying right overhead, ready to pay for mortgages and college tuitions. No one has to leave the farm to protect a way of life.
Excerpted from THE UPCYCLE: Beyond Sustainability—Designing for Abundance by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, published in 2013 by North Point Press, an imprint of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2013 by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. All rights reserved. Purchase this book from our store: The Upcycle.