“We Must Think Anew and Act Anew”: Wind and Weed on the Plains

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Wind energy: our new cash crop

In many ways we’ve come full circle.

I still have memories of a great-grandfather who traveled as a child on a covered wagon from Iowa to Wray. He lived to see a man on the moon.

My father can share stories of the days of his youth where the farm house relied on a wind charger and 32-volt batteries.

Less than a century ago hemp was touted as “the next billion dollar crop“; extracts from marihuana (how it was spelled then) were in most medicinal products at the local pharmacy.

Yuma County sunset

In the bullseye of today’s debate over the future of our rural communities in eastern Colorado, grand swaths of prairie home to some of the best land, water, wind and solar resources in Colorado, its inhabitants are facing stark realties. An aquifer being mined to extinction, cropping practices entirely dependent upon a massive federal subsidy construct. the challenge of deficient infrastructure and jobs to lure young families back to our small towns.

Renewable energy on the plains has been a bright spot for over a decade, billions of dollars invested by Xcel Energy to serve the Front Range demand for green energy. Like farm subsidies, this construct has created one of the largest transfers of wealth from Front Range urban centers to rural counties, eclipsing the economic impact of railroads over a century ago.

Coal, Inc.’s “Big Lie”

There is increasing angst among some in eastern Colorado over further development of wind farms. Concerns over who owns the systems; who is going to receive the federal tax credits for the developments.  Faux concerns over ideologically-centered fears of health hazards.  Pushback on what happens at end of life for these developments. In many ways I understand the angst, I don’t understand the ignorance.  It doesn’t have to be this way; it never did.  Passage of Amendment 37 in 2004 (rejected by almost every rural county) set the stage for this energy transition, even in light of the massive effort by rural electrics to kill the amendment.  Embedded in the amendment was the desire to have community-owned systems feeding the Front Range.  What led us to today’s hysteria at local planning commission meetings is an utter failure of our elected representatives, those who chose to be pawns for a last-century, coal-centric construct. Their refusal to engage with communities who represented the political capital to deliver a more robust economic model to our rural communities and rural electrics lies at their feet.

It’s not too late to change course.

Since the early days of the first Obama administration USDA had funds available to rural electrics to build renewable energy systems for export markets.  We have had the option of rural electric ownership of these systems for over a decade.  Imagine capturing the entirety of the economic value of these next wind farms inside our local coops, and the opportunities that would avail themselves under such a scenario.  No more worrying about  who is getting to benefit; we can be the architects of our destiny, not a hapless community on a ship with no sail.  A destiny that means we can transition from an old model of agriculture to one suited to a 21st-century economy.

Playing (again) at a theater near you.

Closer to home cannabis is on the Wray city ballot next week.  A provision of the 2012 Amendment 64 ballot initiative (to regulate marijuana like alcohol) allowed for cities and counties to opt out of certain activities in the sector: cultivation, extraction, storage and retail operations.  This option only related to medical and adult-use cannabis, not agricultural hemp.  Wray and Yuma County, like almost every other rural interests, put blanket moratoriums in place to prohibit such operations and for the most part they largely exist on both the eastern plains and western slope.  Recently a local company who established themselves as a CBD extractor of hemp biomass in an empty ALCO store in Wray was offered the opportunity to extract THC-rich biomass from the Front Range, and return the oil for further processing.  This was not a request to grow cannabis locally.  Not a request to manufacture products or set up a retail sales store.  Just like the local slaughtering plant that brings in cows from a large geographic region and returns to the sender a value-added product, so it is in this scenario. Along with that we’d see employment opportunities for up to 30 people and significant revenue via taxes to the city. The initial request to waive the extraction moratorium was rejected by city council with no explanation.  The question is now on the city ballot, complete with shrill cries via letters to the editor to reject the question and preserve our idyllic way of life at the headwaters of the Republican River. Asserting that it would only benefit a few, a risk not worth taking.  It’s hard to miss the irony in this weeks LTE (I’d link it but our local paper isn’t online).  The author has rejected the notions of personal responsibility, freedom, and the engagement of commerce in a state-legal enterprise.  If the question of an AR-15 manufacturing plant or a brewery were on the ballot it would go widely unnoticed.

We can’t hide from the cruel fist of Adam Smith.  We participate in a national and global marketplace that has a certain amount of inertia we won’t overcome.  We can cower in fear, or we can embrace the new. There will be winners and losers and there is little reason sans political leadership, that any rural community with a progressive vision should be left behind.

We’ve come full circle.  We’re once again (potential) pioneers.

 

14 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. NOV GOP meltdown says:

    Excellent diary Michael. Traveling to and working in Eastern Colorado and West Kansas from time to time, I love to see this perspective.  The opportunity to diversify and to thrive economically is there for the taking, but it's always demonized by the forces that be that only want the status quo, and will not embrace change or progress.

    And all of this happens amidst the ever shrinking share of family owned farms, bankruptcies, boarded up farmhouses, out of control costs for farmers and ranchers, drug addiction and mental health issues, and the flight of younger generations to the cities and suburbs. Why wouldn't they try something new if the old way isn't working anymore ?

    Rural groupthink is a very tough nut to crack. There is no room or tolerance for divergent viewpoints or ideas.

     

    • MichaelBowman says:

      You’ve nailed it. There is near zero bandwidth for divergent viewpoints. They’ve been told for far too long they are independent, not interdependent in our global economy. 
      The frustration with all of this is we’re drowning in resources, but forces beyond us have moved the cheese. It doesn’t have to be this way. 

      Recently I had a relative proudly state “we’ve just about run all the Democrats out of Yuma County!” I asked them how that was working out for them? Minority representation in the state legislature; our reps are all but useless in shaping policy and don’t appear to have any interest in any authentic bridge building between what is ostensibly ‘producer and consumer’ from an economic perspective. I also reminded them their electoral votes have gone to Hilary and Joe.

      Short any significant support from state and federal resources regarding the aquifer issues, and absent any move towards new industries and ways of thinking, our pain is about to become very, very real. And you can take this to the bank: it will be someone else’s fault.

  2. Conserv. Head Banger says:

    “there is little reason…..that any rural community with a progressive vision should be left behind.”

    Make that “any vision at all.” 

    I’ve been paying a few extra bucks every month for years to buy all my electricity from Xcel Energy’s Windsource program. My thought about these “leaders” married to 19th century coal technology is: ungrateful shitheads.

  3. JohnInDenver says:

    Hard for me to understand the development on the plains, going from opposition to railroad monopolies and enthusiasm for cooperative action (not just Coop siloes, but Lutheran Brotherhood insurance, co-op banks and credit unions, and the Farmers Alliance), to enthusiastic acceptance of Rural Electrification, government extension agents, state and federal funding for improved schools, and agricultural subsidies … to the frequent rejection of economic development efforts.

    • MichaelBowman says:

      The cognitive dissonance is increasingly stunning, and further exasperated over the last decade. There are bright spots here and there.  The Ogallala issues have a gun to our head; it’s hard for them to stake out ideological positions when math and Mother Nature are your adversaries. 

  4. kwtree says:

    Good luck with the ballot issue next week. Maybe the younger, more forward thinkers will outvote the dinosaurs. 

    if it doesn’t happen this year, it will still happen. Rural America is quietly changing under our feet, like new shoots poking up through turned soil.

    Pueblo’s steel mill will run on green energy.

    Hayden, Colorado ( near Craig, historically a coal economy town) is considering converting its old coal fired power plant to a massive wind energy storage facility. 
     

    Even in Grand County, capitalist realities are propelling renewable energy choices to the front of the line. 
     

    In cannabis-suspicious Morgan County, CBD blenders  are winning new customers daily. It may yet give opioid pushers a run for their money. 
     

    Even in Ragin’ Loren Hanks’ Fremont County, cannabis products are on many shopping lists.

    Congrats on another excellent diary, and keep fighting the good fight.

  5. Duke Cox says:

    Excellent dairy, Michael…as usual.

Leave a Reply

Comment from your Facebook account


You may comment with your Colorado Pols account above (click here to register), or via Facebook below.