"Farming" wind by covering prime farmland with wind turbines, and then selling the product to distant urban areas, is big money. The profit potential is huge. However, it is not a sustainable practice. It requires a conscious choice to designate winners and losers. In order to pull in income for a winning farmer hosting turbines, many other farmers must lose some or all of the current value of their farm operation by allowing the wind farm owner a right-of-way through their factory to ship the wind to the desired market. This is a non-starter and cannot be remedied through one-time "market value" payoffs or hostile takeovers of productive operations. Just like any unwanted intrusion into your income stream, many landowners vehemently oppose being burdened by new transmission lines.
In many instances, a farm's heritage simply isn't for sale at any price. This presents a big, big problem for the farms and communities who want to profit by hosting turbines, and they just don't want to take "no" for an answer.
In that vein, the CFRA has attempted to find some middle ground in the debate by identifying contentious issues and recommending solutions in a new report, From the Ground up: Addressing Key Community Concerns in Clean Energy Transmission. Not a bad premise, however the CFRA went about it in exactly the wrong way. Instead of communicating openly with transmission opponents and actually listening to their concerns, the CFRA based their report on news stories, and then made assumptions about the thought process and motivation of opponents they had never met.
I've spent a lot of time over the past 5 years communicating with many of the opponents of the projects CFRA studied, as well as other projects, and I think CFRA got it so wrong that their report comes off as arrogant and out of touch with reality. It is something to be scoffed at and rejected, and it may only ratchet up the anger, instead of ameliorating it.
CFRA begins with an incorrect premise that transmission must be built.
The nation’s most abundant wind resources reside in the remote regions of the Upper Midwest and Great Plains. Residents of these areas routinely enjoy the benefits of wind production in the form of lease payments, jobs, economic development, and tax revenue. But these same lightly populated communities demand only a small amount of electricity, making it imperative that a new generation of transmission infrastructure be put in place to move this energy from where it’s produced to where it’s needed most.
The nation's most abundant wind resources reside offshore, on the east and west coasts and in the Great Lakes. Coincidentally, this is also close to the population centers. In addition, communities across the country are increasing their desire to keep their energy dollars at home, not to send them to Midwestern states, or overseas to transmission owners/developers in foreign countries who want to invest in America's infatuation with "big wind." It's just a non-starter when there is no market for the product.
As technology improves, how we produce and use energy is changing rapidly. The promise of energy storage changes the equation considerably. These "lightly populated communities" will soon be able to store wind energy to be used locally.
Booming distributed generation of small-scale, on-site renewables and more reliable micro-grids are making long distance transmission obsolete.
However, that doesn't provide a profit stream for transmission developers and investors, and local energy prices will be lower than those achievable in urban markets. What's driving this relentless desire for new transmission is pure and simple greed.
Here's an example of just one of the things CFRA got completely wrong:
Concerns over need are more difficult to address than some other stakeholder issues. The concern over need often relates back to a concern over who will ultimately benefit from the project—is a transmission project needed for this area, or is the area merely a means to connect a generating source to a distant community? Localizing benefits of a transmission line can be a difficult task, especially if the developer is not in need of any materials or services that a community can provide.
Another option to address this is to make clear the benefits of improving the aging transmission infrastructure that runs across the country. Showing how upgraded transmission can affect consumer’s rates and reliability may be a good tact for developers. Although this doesn’t necessarily improve the local economy, it does show stakeholders that they are not taking on a transmission project without any sort of reward.
CFRA believes that even flimsier need arguments will convince entrenched opposition, but that merely makes the presumption that opponents are a bunch of easily fooled Mayberry rubes, adding insult to injury.
My advice to transmission developers would be to toss this report in the recycling pile along with the Sunday comics. It's strictly bush league.
The CFRA concludes:
In order to improve the transmission system in the Midwest and across the country, it is important that developers and advocates confront the concerns of those affected.
My advice to newly-minted transmission opponents? There's nothing wrong or shameful about your opposition. Other affected individuals share your thoughts and feelings. What the transmission developer proposes is not okay, and you don't have to accept it.