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Energy Dialogue Gets Rural MN Involved in Decision-Making

A rural climate dialogue took place in Redwood County, Minn., where wind energy development could soon be coming. (Annie Pottorff/Jefferson Center)
A rural climate dialogue took place in Redwood County, Minn., where wind energy development could soon be coming. (Annie Pottorff/Jefferson Center)
October 18, 2019

REDWOOD COUNTY, Minn. – Minnesota's Redwood County hosted a dialogue on the effects of potential wind energy development in the community. A newly-released report examines takeaways from the event.

Last month, 18 county residents heard from four local speakers over three days, and identified challenges and opportunities to development.

Tara Ritter, senior program associate with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy – which co-hosted the event – says the goal was to get people involved before development begins so they can better determine their own future.

She says that leads to greater civic engagement.

"People joining committees at the county level or going to talk to their county commission, things like that that can really bring a community together around a tough subject,” says Ritter. “Including housing wind energy development, which is likely to continue expanding in the region."

Ritter adds that most people came in curious about wind, and without pre-formed opinions on the subject.

The rural climate dialogues began in 2013 to facilitate talks on climate change and energy policies. Events are also hosted by the Jefferson Center and sponsored by the McKnight Foundation.

Participants identified benefits and drawbacks to wind development. Positives included an annual production tax that could bring in more than $1 million and close gaps in the county budget. And Ritter points out that many folks are suffering in this tough farm economy.

"So, just the ability to provide farms and farmers with some stable income in an environment such as this, that was also identified as a benefit,” she notes.

Residents said potential negatives included the lack of opportunity for local utilities to use power from the turbines. In the end, there was wide support for future wind development in the county, although some people were more open to it and others wanted certain conditions to be met.

Ritter says perhaps the most important takeaway is for rural and urban communities to talk to each other.

"If rural areas are the ones housing the infrastructure, but urban people are the ones who are utilizing the largest percentage of the power, how do you make that fair? And I think there are ways to make that fair, but those ways should really be determined by the communities themselves, who are impacted by the development,” says Ritter.

Ritter says another dialogue is planned for early 2020 in a southwestern Minnesota county with a lot of wind development, although a site has not yet been chosen.

Disclosure: Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy contributes to our fund for reporting on Environment, Health Issues, Rural/Farming. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MN