Harvest the Wind: America's Journey to Jobs, Energy Independence, and Climate Stability


Winds sweeping through the Great Plains once robbed the Farm Belt of its future, stripping away overworked topsoil and creating the dreaded Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Today, those winds are bringing new hope to the declining rural communities of the central United States. Nowhere is wind’s promise more palpable than in Cloud County, Kansas, where the soaring turbines of the Meridian Way Wind Farm are boosting incomes and bringing green jobs to a ...

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Harvest the Wind: America's Journey to Jobs, Energy Independence, and Climate Stability

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Winds sweeping through the Great Plains once robbed the Farm Belt of its future, stripping away overworked topsoil and creating the dreaded Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Today, those winds are bringing new hope to the declining rural communities of the central United States. Nowhere is wind’s promise more palpable than in Cloud County, Kansas, where the soaring turbines of the Meridian Way Wind Farm are boosting incomes and bringing green jobs to a community that has, for decades, watched its children drift away.

In Harvest the Wind, Philip Warburg brings readers face-to-face with the people behind the green economy–powered resurgence in Cloud County and communities like it across the United States. This corner of Kansas is the first stop on an odyssey that introduces readers to farmers, factory workers, biologists, and high-tech entrepreneurs—all players in a transformative industry that is taking hold across America and around the globe.
In this illuminating book, Warburg reveals both the remarkable growth of a breakthrough technology and the formidable challenges it faces. He visits epicenters of anti-wind opposition as well as communities that have embraced wind farms as neighbors. He guides readers through an Iowa turbine assembly plant that is struggling to compete in a global marketplace dominated by European and Chinese manufacturers. And he looks at the thousands of miles that wind-generated power will need to travel to reach American consumers.
Harvest the Wind is an earthly antidote to loftier treatises on global warming and green energy. By showing us how practical solutions are being implemented at the local level, Warburg offers an inspirational look at how we can all pursue a saner and more sustainable energy future—while at the same time investing in the nation’s infrastructure and jumpstarting its economy.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Can wind power save us from our reliance on imported fossil fuel? Environmental attorney and activist Warburg believes so. In 2009, he set out to explore the question of how and where America could make wind energy happen, concentrating on the Meridian Way Wind Farm in Cloud County, Kans., where he spoke to landowners who rented out sections of their fields and pastures for turbine placement, educators who reshaped the local community college as a training center for wind energy technicians, and developers who worked with community partners. Today, only 3% of our electricity comes from wind, and there are significant difficulties to overcome: neighboring farms complain about aesthetics and noise; a billion price tag for supplying 20% of our electricity from wind by 2030; and increasingly formidable foreign competitors. Though Warburg’s attitude toward the probability of energy independence is optimistic and his knowledge extensive, his language and presentation is dry and academic enough that—despite the worthiness of his cause—it’s difficult to imagine a commercial audience for this book. Agent: Colleen Mohyde, the Doe Coover Agency. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
“The definitive book on wind power.”—U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, ranking member, House Energy and Commerce Committee
 “Makes it clear that ... wind is fast becoming a mainstream part of the global energy system.”—Dan Reicher, Science
“Warburg’s book looks at communities ... that have seen a resurgence of farming, manufacturing and entrepreneurial spirit due to an upsurge in wind technology.”—Cape Cod Times

“This text will appeal to the idealist and the environmental warrior, providing fuel for wind-power advocates by doing a hefty amount of surface-level research and footwork for them.”—Library Journal

“Warburg’s attitude toward the probability of energy independence is optimistic and his knowledge extensive”—Publisher's Weekly

"Combining graceful prose, analytical rigor, and colorful characters, Harvest the Wind portrays the excitement of a new industry. Much more than just an exploration of the prospects for wind energy, though, Harvest takes us along on the author's journey through the American heartland in search of the nation's soul, and its future.”—Denis Hayes, National Coordinator of the first Earth Day and former director, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

“At a time when America faces growing energy, economic, environmental, and national security uncertainties, we need to tap into our core national heritage of self-reliance to turn challenge into opportunity. With Harvest the Wind, Philip Warburg presents a compelling account of real people doing just that. This is the story about our own Greatest Generation creating the victory gardens of the twenty-first century with clean, renewable energy.”— Vice Admiral Dennis V. McGinn, U.S. Navy (ret.), president and CEO, American Council on Renewable Energy

"Ensuring future energy security requires a revolution in our energy thinking. In revolutions, there are winners and losers, and in the global arena there is no doubt that wind will be one of the winners. Warburg provides a vivid portrait of an industry that is quickly proving itself as a model for international collaboration in reducing our dependence on non-renewable energy sources.”—Professor Katherine Richardson, Chair, Danish Commission on Climate Change Policy

Library Journal
First-time author Warburg (former president, Conservation Law Fdn.) briefly discusses the tumultuous history of wind power in the United States, while focusing on current projects and predicaments in wind energy, as well as some future possibilities. Warburg traveled to the Midwest to seek out current functioning wind farms. In his exploration of wind power, he also visited the Denmark wind turbine manufacturer Vestas and went to China. As the subtitle suggests, the book offers hope for the future of wind energy. Warburg writes about possible employment opportunities and the industry's power to revive depressed areas like the American Rust Belt or unused farmland. In his optimistic look toward the future, he is also grounded in his knowledge of the failures of the past and potential hazards of the present. VERDICT This text will appeal to the idealist and the environmental warrior, providing fuel for wind-power advocates by doing a hefty amount of surface-level research and footwork for them.—Dawn Lowe-Wincentsen, Oregon Inst. of Technology, Portland
Kirkus Reviews
Warburg believes that that collaboration between the government and the private sector can make wind power a major source of energy for the generation of power in the United States. An attorney specializing in environmental law who served as president of the Conservation Law Foundation from 2003 to 2009, the author has been a committed environmentalist for more than 40 years. Warburg makes the case that with this "inexhaustible domestic energy resource," America can finally demonstrate a willingness to lead the international fight for climate stability. He reports on recent travels through the U.S. and in Denmark. where he met with "farmers, ranchers, shop owners, truckers, crane operators and more," whose lives have been improved by the new technology. He also visited large and small-scale wind farms, on land and offshore. While Warburg admits that wind power still presents serious problems for the environment--the turbines are responsible for the death of thousands of birds, the noise they produce can disturb neighboring residential communities, etc.--he is optimistic that these will be resolved and that the benefits of the new technology exceed the costs. At present, Danish investors are the leaders in turbine production. They outsource assembly production to China and the U.S., which rank first and second respectively in annual installations. The author writes that while American companies are only beginning to compete, they recognize that this is "the next big strategic bet." Citing a 2011 government report, Warburg estimates that Kansas alone could supply 90 percent of the nation's present power consumption with the installation of a sufficient number wind turbines. In 2010, seven percent of the state's energy needs have been met by wind power, providing up to $50,000 annually to farmers. Although Warburg summarily dismisses the potential of solar energy as a major part of the clean-energy mix, his arguments about wind power are balanced and informative.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807001073
  • Publisher: Beacon
  • Publication date: 4/17/2012
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.32 (w) x 9.08 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Philip Warburg was president of the Conservation Law Foundation, New England’s leading environmental advocacy group, from 2003 to 2009. Earlier, he ran the Israel Union for Environmental Defense in Tel Aviv and was an attorney at the Environmental Law Institute in Washington, D.C. He has also worked with governments and citizen groups on anti-pollution initiatives in Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, and across Eastern Europe.

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Read an Excerpt

From the Introduction

This book is born of hope and frustration. I was an ideal­istic teenager when millions of Americans gathered for the first Earth Day in April 1970. At public rallies, on college campuses, and in high schools like mine, people demanded an honest reckoning with how we were destroying our environment. It was a time of tumult, a time of questioning.
Then came the Arab oil embargo in 1973, which created panic at the gas pumps and set Washington abuzz with debate about the need to wean America off foreign oil. After college, I joined the energy staff of Senator Charles“Chuck”Percy of Illinois, a former corporate CEO and a Republican who took a pragmatic, bipartisan approach to pro­moting energy conservation and fossil fuel alternatives. President Jimmy Carter was a willing ally, laying out an energy program aimed at providing 20 percent of America’s energy needs from solar, wind, and other renewable resources by the year 2000. As far-fetched as that goal seemed at the time, Congress got behind a number of measures to support investments in renewable energy projects, including wind farms.
My own, as well as the nation’s, hopes for a clean energy future were dashed in 1981, when Ronald Reagan took office and immedi­ately set about dismantling the Carter blueprint. Federal funding for renewable energy was slashed as the new president gave preferential treatment to coal, gas, oil, and nuclear development. Wind energy had begun to take hold in California, but new projects came to a near-halt by the mid-1980s—about the time that Reagan symbolized his disdain for renewable energy by having Carter-era solar panels ripped off the White House roof.

The global momentum behind wind power shifted to Europe dur­ing the 1990s, with Denmark, Germany, and Spain leading the way. That decade was also a period when climate change moved out of scholarly publications and into the public arena. It was fast becom­ing clear that curbing our dependence on fossil fuels was an environ­mental and humanitarian imperative, not just a matter of national security.
After working on environmental and human rights issues in the Middle East for many years, I returned to my native New England in 2003 to serve as president of the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental advocacy group concerned with energy policy and cli­mate change. From that new vantage point, I was struck by how little progress America had made toward Jimmy Carter’s long-forgotten renewable energy target. Wind energy that year accounted for a tenth of a percent of America’s power generation, and solar energy even less. Though George W. Bush had supported wind energy as the governor of his home state of Texas, as president he sent an unambiguous signal to the nation and the world: America was unwilling to lead, or even be part of, a serious global effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Stymied by inaction in Washington, my colleagues and I pushed for saner energy policies and practices in New England. While we helped launch the nation’s first multistate effort to curb carbon emis­sions via a “cap-and-trade” regime called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, we had a much tougher time moving renewable energy forward on a scale that would make a difference. In advocating for America’s first offshore wind farm, Cape Wind, to be built near the Massachusetts coast, we found ourselves at loggerheads with an ex­tremely well-funded opposition group that was determined to block any encroachment on their backers’ ocean views. What made mat­ters worse, Senator Ted Kennedy—long a champion of renewable energy—had come out against Cape Wind because it was to be sited about five miles from his family’s Hyannis Port vacation compound. If the likes of Senator Kennedy were so unwilling to look beyond their own backyard interests, I wondered how and where America could make wind energy happen.
In 2009, I set out to explore this question. My journey began on the Kansas prairie, in half-forgotten Cloud County, where old-timers have long watched their children and grandchildren leave family farms and ranches in search of more lucrative and perhaps less arduous work elsewhere. A large commercial wind farm went into operation there in December 2008, its giant turbines generating enough electricity for 55,000 Kansas and Missouri households. To understand what wind power has brought to this struggling corner of rural America, I spent time getting to know the landowners who have rented out sections of their fields and pastures, the educators who have reshaped the local community college as a training center for wind energy technicians, and the developers who worked with community partners to move the Meridian Way Wind Farm from concept to completion.
I also traveled to Rust Belt towns of the Midwest, where I learned about the thousands of new jobs that the wind industry has created for young and old alike, in retooled factories that once made car parts, printing presses, and construction cranes. And at wind farm sites across the heartland, truckers and construction crews expressed their excitement at being part of an emerging industry with a promising future, and newly trained technicians described the rigors of working atop 300-foot towers in hundred-degree heat and subzero cold.
Wind is not just a new presence on the American working land­scape. It is also an expanding force in the global marketplace. To gain a better grasp of wind’s broader market dynamics, I traveled to Den­mark, which is proud to be producing one fifth of its power from wind. This small Scandinavian nation is also home to the world’s top-ranked turbine supplier, Vestas Wind Systems, which made the machines that now spin out Cloud County’s wind power. My next stop was China, vast and ambitious, outstripping all other nations in its wind energy use. Not surprisingly, the Asian giant is also emerging as a major rival to Europe and the United States in its wind energy manufacturing.

Today, America gets about 3 percent of its electricity from wind— hardly enough to get excited about. Yet, in raw terms, our wind en­ergy resource—like our solar potential—vastly outstrips our current and future power needs. The U.S. Department of Energy conserva­tively predicts that, by 2030, wind energy could provide 20 percent of America’s electricity. Other experts see wind generating more than half our nation’s electricity by mid-century, so long as we invest in new transmission lines that will open up some of the remote areas where our wind resources are greatest, and so long as we develop a “smart grid” that can match the variable flow of wind-generated power to consumers’ needs.
Like any other energy technology, wind power has its downsides. Birds and bats may be killed by turbines, and the habitats of closely watched species like the sage grouse, the prairie chicken, and the Indi­ana bat may be at risk in some areas. Wind farms also can pose prob­lems for people living nearby. Some object to the visual presence of towering turbines; others complain about the noise. At places as far-flung as Vermont’s Taconic Mountains and the Flint Hills of Kansas, the tensions surrounding wind energy have caused bitter and lasting divisions among neighbors and former friends. Wind power’s future success depends on our addressing these issues responsibly.

As I made my way across vast stretches of a country that I previously only knew through books and the media, I often thought of the advice that Franklin D. Roosevelt gave to a headstrong Wall Street banker who had just resigned from his Brain Trust, disillusioned with the New Deal’s spending and monetary policies. “Please get yourself an obviously secondhand Ford car,” the president counseled. “[P]ut on your oldest clothes and start west for the Pacific Coast, undertaking beforehand not to speak on the entire trip with any banker or busi­ness executive (except gas station owners), and to put up at no hotel where you have to pay more than $1.50 a night.”1 The banker—my father—apparently felt no need to follow FDR’s advice. I think he missed out on a lot.
Although the motels where I stayed charged considerably more than $1.50 a night, the cross section of Americans whom I met— farmers, ranchers, factory workers, shop owners, truckers, crane op­erators, and more—deepened my appreciation and respect for the people who inhabit so much of this land. I also came to understand much more fully the ways that America’s push toward renewable en­ergy has changed people’s lives for the better. Tens of thousands of Americans have found new jobs in the factory and field. Thousands of others have seen their flagging farm incomes boosted by generous, multi-year lease payments from wind developers.

Yet these people see more in our nation’s wind energy investment than a pay stub or a rent check. The devastating consequences of cli­mate change may still seem remote, but the people involved in our wind energy sector are fiercely proud of their role in advancing the nation’s quest for energy independence. Too many of their family members, friends, and neighbors have been sent overseas to fight wars that they see, at least in part, as a struggle for control over waning energy resources. Too many loved ones have come back from those wars defeated in spirit, physically maimed, or in body bags. Too much taxpayer money has been spent fighting distant wars with no clear purpose—funds that would have been far better spent creating jobs and new industries here at home.

Investing in wind energy will not bring an end to Middle East strife, but it can begin to wean our nation off the fossil and nuclear fuels that we have come to associate far too closely with American prosperity. Now is the time to reshape our energy economy. With wind, we can tap an inexhaustible domestic energy resource while showing that America finally is willing to join—and even lead—the battle for climate stability.

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Table of Contents

Introduction vii

Chapter 1 Cloud County Revival 1

Chapter 2 Early Adopters 19

Chapter 3 Rust Belt Renewables 39

Chapter 4 The Chinese Are Coming 59

Chapter 5 Working the Wind 74

Chapter 6 The Path to Cleaner Energy 96

Chapter 7 Birds and Bats 116

Chapter 8 The Neighbors 134

Chapter 9 Greening the Grid 161

Epilogue 180

Tables 185

Acknowledgments 190

Notes 197

Selected Bibliography 218

Index 232

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