Northern Valley Beacon

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Wednesday, August 03, 2005


Who will inherit the Dakota wind?

Two stories of interest to rural people regarding wind energy broke within the last week. They might well show another front on which the battle between family-owned, independent farms and corporate-controlled farms will be fought.

Late last week Deere & Company announced that it is going into the manufacture, financing, and servicing of wind turbines. (I was in Moline, Ill., the company headquarters, as the firm was gearing up for its announcement and had a chance to get much information about the venture from friends who work for the company.) The Deere idea is to supply equipment and strategic support with which independent producers can increase their profits, independence, and management options by producing energy on their own farms. From the standpoint of farm economists, it is a way to stabilize fuel costs and have a segment of farm production devoted to the production of energy--much like oats and corn were grown as the energy source when farming was done with horses. Deere plans to market its wind turbine systems much like it does other agricultural equipment.

The other story came out of Dickey County, North Dakota, which borders Brown County on the north. FPL Energy had a hissy because supervisors of Spring Valley Township in the county passed a zoning ordiance applying to the placement of wind turbines. FPL Energy of Juno Beach, Florida, is building wind turbine farms in North and South Dakota. The ordinance that gave them fits is one that sets up some rules so that the wind turbines built on a farm will not interfere with wind turbines that might be built or planned on neighboring farms. If farmers on adjoining land agree about placement of the generators, the rules do not apply. The whole idea of the zoning rules was to head off conflict that might arise and to provide an orderly way for farmers to take advantage of wind turbines.

FPL Energy protested that the rules would cost them more in building access roads and transmission cables. It threatened to build the wind farm elsewhere. But the real objection to the zoning rules is that they provide a way for individual farmers to join a power grid rather than have it run by a corporation which takes control over the land involved. While farmers would be paid for land used for towers on a lease basis, they would not receive direct benefits from the production and sale of energy.

FPL Energy has two 40-megawatt wind farms operating. One is in La Moure County, North Dakota, and the other is near Highmore, South Dakota. FPL Energy constructed, owns, and operates the farms.

In both states, the state legislatures passed laws regulating how the wind farms may be taxed. Winds are intermittent and variable and cannot be depended upon for full production of elecricity at all times, so the taxing rate for the towers has been adjusted to accommodate the variables. Presumably, the taxing provisions would apply to individual owners of wind turbines, but the legislatures seemed to have addressed corporate interests in their laws, not the interests of farmers who may want to form production cooperatives and obtain access to substations through which the electricity can be transmitted to distribution points.

FPL Energy sells the wind-generated electricity to Basin Electric, a cooperative based in Bismarck, North Dakota. It planned to sell its Dickey Country production to the Otter Tail cooperative based in Minnesota.

Deere and Company's venture would require provisions for transmission of output to distribution points, and the rural electric cooperatives that distribute electricity to their member-users would be the likely organizations to coordinate the production of electricity by individual farmers. At this time, no programs of organizing individual farmers to contribute to the electricity they use are listed as activities among the cooperatives in the Dakotas.

If rural areas are going to have affordable and dependable energy produced and consumed by individual producers, Deere & Company will probably have to lead the way.

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