Monday, July 05, 2010

wind is the new oil

NOTE: this is a guest column written for my dad for a little weekly newspaper in the town where i grew up. dad owned the paper for 35 years before selling it a decade or so ago to the woman who had worked for him for most of those years. he still works there every day and writes a weekly column. this week, he ordered politely asked me to write it for him. i found myself having to write it here in this blogger compose space, in order for the words to flow, so i thought i'd share it with all of you as well. plus, i thought you'd all like to see that i am indeed capable of capital letters...

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earth art from the COP15 meeting in copenhagen

Over the past year, my husband and I began to think about living a more environmentally responsible life. Last December, Copenhagen hosted the COP15 United Nations environment meeting and so for the past year, our newspapers have had an environmental slant to all of the stories. Although the meeting was a disappointment on a political front, we found that it had us thinking about ways we could, as individuals, do our part towards ensuring that the planet we leave to our daughter Sabin isn't a complete disaster.

One of the first things I did was leave a job I'd had for two years in Norway. I was flying to work on a bi-weekly basis from our home in Denmark and that just didn't seem like the most environmentally responsible thing to do, so I decided to get a job in the country where I lived. An opportunity arose for both my husband and I in a renewable energy company that manufactures wind turbines. That seemed to both of us like a good way to take action.

outside shots - our new old farmhouse
house with a 10-year plan

Taking the new jobs mean that we had to move across the country. Denmark is about the size of Wisconsin, so this move isn't as dramatic as it sounds. At the same time, we decided to follow our dream of getting a farmhouse with a bit of land where we could have a big garden and a few animals and although we have no desire to go completely self-sufficient, to be more self-sufficient than we are today. We found a place with an old and rather falling-down house that was built in 1895 that sits on about 11 acres of land. We have a ten-year plan for restoration of the house, but we are definitely in love with the property, which includes one end of a small lake.

our little corner of the lake
What it all means is that we have room for a big garden, where we can grow all kinds of our own vegetables and put them up, thereby eating a more locovore diet. We're going to have chickens and raise a couple of pigs as well, because it feels much better knowing where the eggs and bacon come from and what they were fed and knowing that they lived a good life. We live much closer to work than we did - only about 8 miles away. That means that my husband can bike and although I drive, it's much better on the environment than flying to work like I did for the past two years.

When we do our renovations, we're looking to use as many recycled materials as we can and to build in ways that make the house as energy-efficient as possible. We're researching having our own little 2-3KW wind turbine, with the intention of eventually going off the grid, or perhaps selling our excess energy back into it. We're finding that even though Denmark is very far ahead on the wind energy front (Vestas, a Danish company, is the world's #1 wind turbine producer (for now)), the legislation is lagging a bit behind as far as the individual consumer is concerned, but even that is changing.

iowa wind farms
near Charles City, Iowa
It's very encouraging to drive across Iowa and South Dakota and see big wind farms dotting the landscape. I know there's work to be done here on the infrastructure, but it's a good sign that the wind farms are being built. Today, 20% of the energy in Denmark is produced by wind farms, both on- and offshore and they have a goal of being 100% on renewable energy by 2030. It's my impression that in Denmark, there are more small wind installations -- of 2-3 turbines -- and it would be nice to see that coming here as well. A small town could put up 4-5 turbines and surely go a long way to producing the needed power. Of course, power in this area is already renewable hydro-electric power, so it's not as much of an issue here near the river. But we sure do have the wind for it around here.

It's interesting after a number of years in the maritime industry, where I learned quite a lot about the transport of fossil fuels (oil, LNG, LPG and other petroleum products), to come into the wind industry, which feels like there's a new gold rush going on. I keep saying wind is the new oil and there is definitely a cowboy mentality in the industry - a pioneering spirit of trying all sorts of innovative solutions (gearless turbines are a big one, and the sheer size of the turbines is another - our company's largest are 3.6 megawatts with 58-meter (190-foot) blades). There's a heady feeling that must have been there in the early days of the oil business and it's very interesting to be part of it.


Marilynne said...

Good for you. We went solar last August. Now in the summer we are producing more power than we use. That's going back into the grid. We'll be paid for that electricity and it will help us pay for the winter electric bills. The winter bills are still much lower than they were before. We have lots of sunshine.

Barb said...

Great column. I've been trying for the last few years to be more environmentally responsible. We really haven't done anything big - like renovate a house. But we've noticed how much less goes in the trash and how much more goes in the recycling or the composter.

The Queens Table said...

That is inspirational! We so need to rid ourselves of oil and the corporations that run them too. We need to do more natural things to save our environment. Thanks for doing your part!

Anonymous said...

This is wonderful! Very inspiring too. You're such a terrific writer, with or without the caps.

I love the wind turbine pictures - my house is 100% powered by wind from wind farms in Iowa and Minnesota.

And that reflection...ahhhhh....I relax a little just looking at it.

Elizabeth said...

Thanks for making us think again over this subject and how we can contribute in a positive way.

Sammi said...

Oooh, that was interesting, learnt a bit more about you too. Strange to see you writing with capitals, can't get used to that ;o)

awesome column julie x

Sandra said...

I'm glad you are seeing the wind turbines in Iowa & SD. We have a hard row to hoe in the US, but one step at a time will eventually get us there.

We have been conscious of what we do for several decades, but in recent times more so. Economics has had some part in this. We stopped using central air conditioning last year, mostly as a way to cut costs. It has since become a mission for me to leave it off. We don't need it, once you become acclimated. It's important to do what one can and not think about being one individual. Many individuals eventually make a difference.

mrs mediocrity said...

I want one too! In the past year some of them have been built near our cabin, on the way there from our house, and I told my husband this year that I want one (he thought I was joking, but I wasn't). I don't know that it is possible yet here to have one on private property, but if it ever becomes so, I will be looking into it. I love them, the way they stand there like sentinels...

Eliane Zimmermann said...

lovely article, sounds a bit like my husband and me when we moved from germany ten years ago. living on (only ;-) 4 acres in rural ireland but a few minutes from the sea we would love to have wind energy but the cowboy mentality didn't reach private people though there are some wind farms from some indutrial millionaires. and i would looooove stop flying to work to germany and austria, it seems so unnatural, so timeconsuming, so stressful. cheers from almost 100 degrees in munich!

Unknown said...

Very good to catch up on your writing, your travels, your new home and your adventures. Conratulations on taking charge of your life. Inspirational. And your photography has gotten ever more fantastic.

Megan said...

really, a great, refreshing article. living in an area where there's a "gas boom" i feel like a lot of people around here are forgetting about other options. everytime i see a gas well go up, i can't help but wish it were a wind turbine.

Lorac said...

I think this is just fantastic! Love the new place. Funny, I worked as the safety technician for one of the first wind farms built in Ontario by Vestas. One of the best contracts I ever had! They are a good company.