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Wind Energy Development Can Revitalize Rural America

Jan. 25, 2011

Audio with Tom Potter, Colorado Wind for Schools Facilitator (MP3 1.3 MB) Download Windows Media Player. Time: 00:02:46

Many rural communities have seen the benefits of wind energy development in action — but some concerns and doubts remain.

Tom Potter is the Colorado facilitator of the Wind for Schools program and has spent quite a bit of time in the rural communities of the state. He's heard people questioning the viability of harnessing wind for energy and whether it's even worth it. But according to Potter, many of the concerns are being overcome by a desire to fix an even bigger problem in the countryside.

"People in rural areas that I talk to, really have a big concern about what they call the depopulation of their county and of their town and of their farm areas. The major concern is that they don't see their kids again because there isn't a future for them here. They already see, as we're building out wind farms and the like, that some of the kids are coming back and the flight of the youth is being reversed somewhat."

In fact, Potter has seen that in action. He's visited several schools and says there's a general buzz — an excitement — about wind energy projects in schools. Potter recalls a visit to the high school in Burlington, Colorado, where he had a chance to hear what students think about wind energy and what it means to their future.

"The seniors there were talking about a very high interest in renewables projects. They were talking about the future. And that could include a future of, for instance, engineering school to be a wind engineer — or the future that could include some commercial operation with wind."

Of course, as Potter points out, that future depends a lot on the actions of the parents of these students and today's leaders. That's why Potter decided he'd like to adapt the well-known "A Christmas Carol" story to an energy story.

"If we really understood what the energy picture is and how we're impacted by it and how our shortsighted decisions are making long-term difficulty for the next generations, would we continue doing that? And in our age, I think the polar bears are in some ways like the Tiny Tims — each of those photos of a polar bear jumping off an ice flow that's melting giving us a chance to focus for a minute and rethink the energy habits we've gotten into and what do they mean about where we're going."

Potter believes new energy interests could revitalize the rural way of life and make a big difference in the country's future — and likely even the future of the entire world.

"At every scale wind can bring benefits. At the small scale, increased energy security. At the community scale, financial benefits to the areas entrepreneurs and some improved economic choices for the community. And then finally at large scale, tax relief, lease income, and new rural jobs."

Potter says wind energy is the future of rural America.

—Julie Jones