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Cloud County Revival: Wind Power's Ascent in Rural Kansas

An environmental attorney, Philip Warburg served as president of the Conservation Law Foundation from 2003 to 2009. He is the author of Harvest the Wind: America’s Journey to Jobs, Energy Independence, and Climate Stability. Visit his website at www.philipwarburg.com  

0107“Ruin and Revival” is the theme of this season’s Terrain.org: A Journal of the Built & Natural Environments. Tapping into the happier half of this theme, the journal includes an updated version of the first chapter of Harvest the Wind under the title, “Cloud County Revival: Wind Power’s Ascent in Rural Kansas.”

In late July, I had the chance to revisit Cloud County with my wife Tamar. This remote corner of north-central Kansas was the starting point for my wind power research back in 2009, and I have maintained close ties with people in the community ever since.

The occasion for our visit was a book talk hosted by EDP Renewables North America, owner of a 201-megawatt wind farm that was built in 2008, and Cloud County Community College, home to one of the nation’s leading wind energy technology training programs. A good-sized crowd gathered for the talk, undaunted by the 105-degree mid-afternoon heat during a drought that tested the nerves and strained the budgets of many Cloud County farmers and ranchers.

Income from the Meridian Way Wind Farm offers a much-valued hedge against turbulence in the Cloud County farm economy. In summers like this past one, crops may wither and cattle may need to be shipped out to feedlots earlier than planned, but wind farm hosts can rely on the continuity of lease payments for wind turbines and access roads on their property. These annuities amount to tens of thousands of dollars for many landowners.

In addition, Cloud County benefits from a voluntary contribution made each year by EDP Renewables, to be used for economic development projects. During the past few years this payment has amounted to $200,000, and it is expected to rise to $300,000 next year.

Beyond these economic gains, wind power development has brought a renewed sense of pride to Cloud County Community College. The college’s wind energy program is now in its fifth year, with over a hundred students enrolled today. In addition to kids coming straight out of high school, the program has trained retired Army careerists, former schoolteachers and office administrators, and many from the construction trades that were hit so hard by the recession.

In the article that appears in Terrain.org, readers can look more closely at the lives of Cloud County farmers, ranchers, educators, and wind farm operators - all beneficiaries of the boost that wind power has brought to their community.