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Wind Power Advocate Interview: Lisa Daniels, Windustry

Lisa Daniels, left, with Larry Flowers, right.

Wind Power Advocate Interview: Lisa Daniels, Windustry

Date: 1/1/2005

Location: Minneapolis, MN

Lisa Daniels was recently awarded Wind Powering America's Regional Wind Advocacy Award for the Midwest Region. Larry Flowers, Wind Powering America Technical Director, presented the award.

Q. How did you become interested in wind energy?

A. Wind energy always seemed to resonate with me on a number of levels. While living in Berkeley in the 1980s, I volunteered at the Farallones Institute, a nonprofit that worked to demonstrate and train others on "appropriate technology." This led me to take classes in wind energy and even attend an AWEA WINDPOWER Conference in San Francisco, where my instructor bragged to a colleague about bringing one of the few women into the room. A few years later, when I moved from the Bay Area to Minneapolis and started a family, I wanted to switch careers and focus on something that was part of the solution: renewable energy. It took me a few years to get settled and create this Windustry thing.

Q. What were the driving forces that helped to create Windustry?

A. There were many contributing factors. One of the major factors was a 1994 legislative agreement directing Northern States Power (NSP, now Xcel Energy) to develop alternative energy because the Prairie Island Nuclear Plant had exceeded its waste storage capacity. As NSP and wind developers began to develop wind energy along the Buffalo Ridge in Southwest Minnesota, many farmers and community members had questions. Windustry, originally formed as a curriculum project in 1995, worked to compile and share basic wind energy information.

Now remember, this was way back in time before the Internet was commonly used; the World Wide Web contained little or no wind energy information. Wind Powering America didn't exist, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory had more resources to bring wind power to developing nations than to Minnesota or Kansas or New York or Oregon. Windustry put together materials and meetings on wind energy basics and project economics for rural ag trainers. We also focused on landowner concerns with easement agreements because the most common way for a landowner to become involved in a project was to lease his or her land. The landowner was often incredulous that there was finally some value in the wind.

Windustry's work was unique because it was designed with the rural landowner and rural community in mind. I believed that farmers and rural communities could make better decisions about how to participate in wind development if they had access to sound information. This was a new industry for our nation, as well as rural communities in Minnesota and the Midwest. Our work quickly expanded as the interest level in wind energy increased with each new wind turbine that was installed.

Q. What are Windustry's objectives and key activities?

A. Today, Windustry's core work is to create an understanding of wind energy opportunities for rural economic benefit by providing "how to" information and technical assistance and reaching out to land owners and communities in windy areas. Our main focus areas are economic development from wind energy; landowner rights, risks, and benefits; and community-based wind energy.

Q. You are an active participant in the Great Plains SEED; tell us about its activities.

A. Great Plains Sustainable Energy for Economic Development (SEED) has not been active for a couple of years, but it was a regional Midwest network of people and organizations working for sustainable energy for economic development. However, we still work together with organizations in other Midwest states to share experiences and strategies for moving sustainable energy forward.

We are currently active with Minnesota SEED, which has an ambitious legislative platform focusing on advancing Minnesota's commitment to renewable energy, supporting community wind development, and addressing transmission barriers for wind power. For us, the most important part of this agenda is to renew Minnesota's support for community wind since our current incentive program became fully subscribed.

Q. You started a wind farmers' network. Tell us about it.

A. The Wind Farmers Network is a membership-based exchange for landowners and communities to share experiences and advice and to connect with wind energy experts. The 400-plus attendees of our June 2004 Community Wind Energy conference are the founding members of the network. This group is a diverse mix of wind advocates, wind industry representatives, farmers, and leaders of windy communities. We launched the Wind Farmers Network online forum last Fall (www.windfarmersnetwork.org), and it is steadily growing into a dynamic meeting place for discussions, news, and information. As the Wind Farmers Network grows, we will have more face-to-face meetings while adding increasing diversity to our membership.

Q. You've been an advocate of community wind. Tell us why you think that model is important and can be successful in the United States.

A. Community wind essentially means that members of the local community have a significant financial stake in the project. Wind development brings local economic development through leasing farmers' land, creating jobs, and bringing investment to the community. But community wind offers significantly more local economic benefits because local community members participate in the financial performance. Community wind also builds support for and awareness of electricity and wind power in general. Wind turbines start to look pretty good when the money they generate flows into your pocket.

Q. As you mentioned earlier, you convened a well-attended community wind conference last year. What were the key outcomes?

A. The conference really helped put community wind on the radar screen of the wind industry and cemented local ownership as a viable option for landowners and communities in windy areas. Our wind industry sponsors, exhibitors, and attendees saw that community wind is an important business opportunity for them. Farmers and potential community wind developers gained perspective and had a great chance to share their experiences and connect with experts. We also made significant inroads in attracting interest from traditional agricultural organizations and companies, including the American Farm Bureau and John Deere. The dialogue started at the conference continues with the Wind Farmers Network, which was launched by conference participants.

Q. Minnesota has been a leader in community wind. How can community wind projects be replicated in other states?

A. Minnesota has become the national leader in community wind by implementing strong public policies, working with innovative community wind entrepreneurs, and creating a firm market for wind-generated electricity. The potential for community wind is huge, not only in Minnesota but wherever wind energy is feasible. A big challenge for community wind is that it's often difficult for local investors and community-based entities to take advantage of the main federal incentive for wind, the Production Tax Credit. USDA's renewable energy grant program, which is a potential source of financial support for a community wind project in any state, mitigates this situation a bit. However, community wind projects often require a combination of incentives, suitable business structure, low-cost capital, and additional state support.

Q. What are the key barriers to widespread implementation of community wind projects?

A. Some of the barriers for community wind projects are the same as for all wind development: access to transmission and stable markets. Some of the barriers are more specific to community wind, such as access to financing and access to information and expertise. A big advantage of community wind is that it is less likely to face community opposition or permitting barriers.

Q. You have been active in outreach for Section 9006 of the U.S. Farm Bill. What lessons have you learned that might help others spread the word to rural stakeholders?

A. You need to team up, ask for help, and use available resources. Also, as the program becomes increasingly competitive, applicants will need to maximize their score. In the self-scoring section, provide a clear explanation to justify your score. Summarize what you told them in the application.

Q. You've met many interesting folks in your outreach efforts. Tell us a story about one of them.

A. You're right, I have met so many interesting people that I don't think I could name just one. I have made dear friends with some of the county commissioners and their families, and rural utility boards have welcomed me with open arms to work on their projects with them. Agriculture agency administrators have been impressed with huge turnouts to wind energy town meetings. These are the reasons that I keep going. The thing I love the most is when someone really "gets it" about wind energy—when they drop their resistance and let the "Aha moment" happen.

Besides that, I have developed a real love for traveling to exotic hinterlands of the Midwest, where sometimes hotel guests are advised to not allow their hunting dogs in the pool and to clean their game in designated areas and not in the hotel room.

This information was last updated on August 02, 2011