Guest Column: Be proud of generating clean energy in county

Published 10:00 pm Monday, October 9, 2017

My Point of View, By Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

Why do I think wind farms are a good idea in Freeborn County? John Forman covered many of the facts already (“Turbines look good when compared to fuel plants”), but I’ll add some additional points.

I’ll start with the least important reason first — personal taste. I’ve always liked the rustic look of windmills and the sleek design of wind turbines.

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Wind turbines aren’t aesthetically pleasing to everybody, but this isn’t the first time we’ve altered the landscape or horizon in this county. Our landscape has been subject to constant change. Settlers drained swamps, broke prairie sod, built farmsteads and planted crops. Railroad crews and teams of horses laid tracks, followed by trains chugging loudly and belching black coal smoke. Next, people constructed roads for automobiles. Then workers erected telephone and electric poles alongside the roads, stretching miles of wire aloft. Road crews shaved hills, filled in low spots, widened highways and covered them in asphalt. Over time, monocropping replaced much plant diversity and many small farmsteads.

Though change is inevitable, we always have choices about how we respond to it, and we should try to adapt for the better. A major change that is occurring right now is climate change. The main culprit is consumption of fossil fuels, and that’s another reason why I support wind energy. Wind power generation adds no carbon to the atmosphere. If we can shift our energy production to carbon-free sources like wind soon enough, we may be able to reduce the impacts of climate change. This is incredibly hopeful, and we should get behind it, especially because of the potential danger climate change poses to vulnerable populations like those living near sea level.

Not everybody agrees with me that climate change is happening and is caused by human activity, but we may still have some common ground, because there are many more reasons for supporting wind farms.

Wind energy doesn’t produce air quality hazards. Air pollution from burning fossil fuels create particulates that cause and exacerbate breathing problems like asthma. This type of pollution kills thousands of people in the U.S. every year, including dozens of children.

Wind power does not pollute water resources. Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for natural gas frequently causes water pollution around gas wells. People have had their well water tested and found known fracking fluids in it. Others can light their water on fire because “migrated methane” much higher than natural levels now comes out of their taps. In addition, most natural gas wells leak at least some methane, a potent greenhouse gas, directly into the air.

There is also no such thing as a wind power spill. Pipelines for oil and gas can leak or rupture and contaminate surrounding land and waterways, sometimes unnoticed for weeks, or cause explosions.

There are other good reasons not related to the environment. Energy production is vital to our national economy, and energy independence is important to national security. Minnesota has no fossil fuel reserves, but it does have good wind generation potential in southern Minnesota. This is one of our best ways to contribute to energy production, and our supply won’t run out. (Even Texas with its petroleum reserves is harnessing the wind, and it’s the top state for wind energy production.)

If all that doesn’t compel a person, perhaps the bottom line does. Tax revenue from wind production would help our county’s budget. It could offset other taxes or help our county make important investments in public goods like infrastructure development.

Some people are still against expanding wind generation in Freeborn County for health concerns in proximity to wind turbines. These are not well-established by science, but perception is reality. I live near the train tracks and sometimes hear the train whistle and thunder of railroad cars at night, but I expected that when I bought my house. When I was a young child I lived along a busy stretch of Highway 65, and I heard the constant thrum of traffic and watched headlight beams travel across my bedroom walls at night. These could cause sleep problems, but we’ve accepted them as a normal price of progress. I hope there is a reasonable way to help individuals next to the wind turbines feel like they are benefiting rather than losing from their presence.

In Freeborn County, we can be proud of growing healthy food and generating clean energy. We are part of powering a bright and livable future for our country.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.