# Wind Power

Iowa, Oil and Agriculture-- Meet Francis Thicke, Candidate for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture

(I enjoyed the diary and the video tour of Thicke's farm after the jump. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Who is the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture?  The answer to that question is, and has always been:  whichever faithful servant of Big Agriculture was keeping the chair warm and keeping Monsanto,  Koch and Cargill happy, Democrat or Republican.  (Currently, it's a guy who loves chicken factories.)  An urban dweller, I didn't think that the Ag Secretary had anything to do with me. 

A few months ago, I met Francis Thicke, an organic dairy farmer who is running for Secretary of Agriculture, and he changed my mind about that.   I have begun to grasp how this official affects the food I eat, the quality of the air and rivers where I live, and waters far downstream from Iowa.  I have even begun to hope for change in the way we produce food and use energy in Iowa, where we often set the example for farming practices across the country.

  Francis Thicke (pronounced “tickee”) has an organic dairy farm near Fairfield, Iowa, a small community best known as the home of Maharishi University.   Francis and his wife, Susan, make milk, yogurt and cheese with the milk from his 80 cows, and sell all of it locally.  Although he grew up on a farm, Francis wanted to be a musician.  He studied music and philosophy in college, and plays a mean trumpet.  But eventually he got a doctorate in agronomy instead, worked at the USDA, then came back to Iowa to start a dairy farm. 

 Radiance Dairy is no ordinary farm.  Livestock and landscape nourish each other.  Everything the cows eat is grown on land they fertilize, and as Francis says, they enjoy their work.  He uses solar panels to power pumps for water , to electrify fences, and to heat water for his dairy processing plant.  A wind turbine is in the works.  His operation is so innovative that he attracts visitors who come to learn, from local schoolchildren to the World Bank, and he travels frequently to teach and give lectures.   He has received awards from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club, which recognized him as a “Steward of the Land,” among other awards.  People who know him regard him as a national treasure.

more below the fold… 

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IA Ag Sec: Who's Afraid of Francis Thicke?

(The horror! - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Some farmers are afraid of me.

I know this because a farmer named Jerry wrote a letter to the Des Moines Register recently saying that they are scared.  It would be a “scary scenario for mainstream agriculture” if I got elected as Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, he said.   Francis Thicke is a “true believer in everything organic,” he shuddered.

Running for office is an adventure.  But I never expected to learn that Iowa farmers, who are among the most resilient, shrewd and creative people on the planet, are afraid of a mild-mannered organic dairy farmer with a PhD in Agronomy and some ideas for helping them meet challenges such as peak oil.   So I thought I would write him a letter to reassure him that I’m not scary, because if we don’t get our act together to deal with the real challenges of peak oil, the disruptions caused by climate change, and the growing monopoly power of corporate agribusiness, then we really will have cause for concern.


Dear Jerry,

Don’t be afraid.  This is America, and no one is going to make you “go organic.”  It’s the Big Ag interests that want to limit your choices, not me.   You might save money and protect water quality and the health of your family if you understood how to apply sustainable farming methods that do not require farm chemicals, but you don’t have to.

No one is going to force you to make your own biofuels on the farm from perennial crops that make your farm resilient and energy efficient.  Nor will you be forced to drive a hydrogen or ammonia-powered tractor with fuel derived from wind power.   If diesel prices soar in the next few years, as the Defense Department[pdf] is warning us, it’s your right to pay $6 a gallon or more and keep right on using it.  There may be shortages in our future by 2015, but I’m sure you’ll be able to find fuel at some price, somewhere.

You have the right to keep doing things the way you always have, and not take advantage of science-based ways to bring your costs down and prepare for a future without abundant petrochemicals.  All I am offering is a vision for a thriving agriculture in the absence of cheap oil, and leadership to meet the challenges that we know are coming.   Energy will be a huge game-changer over the coming decade–for agriculture, and for everything else.

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Recent Chet Culver news roundup (updated)

The Des Moines Register dinged Governor Chet Culver recently for not scheduling as many press conferences and public appearances as Terry Branstad and Tom Vilsack did as governor, but Culver’s been active around the state since he submitted his draft budget to the legislature last week.

Lots of links are after the jump, along with an update on Jonathan Narcisse, who supported Culver in 2006 but recently launched his own gubernatorial campaign.

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Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 1)

I expected 2009 to be a relatively quiet year in Iowa politics, but was I ever wrong.

The governor’s race heated up, state revenues melted down, key bills lived and died during the legislative session, and the Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in Varnum v Brien became one of this state’s major events of the decade.

After the jump I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from January through June 2009. Any comments about the year that passed are welcome in this thread.

Although I wrote a lot of posts last year, there were many important stories I didn’t manage to cover. I recommend reading Iowa Independent’s compilation of “Iowa’s most overlooked and under reported stories of 2009,” as well as that blog’s review of “stories that will continue to impact Iowa in 2010.”

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Iowa Must Seize Chances to Grow Green Economy

(A timely commentary, since Barack Obama has just named Van Jones (author of The Green Collar Economy) to be a special adviser on green jobs, enterprise and innovation. - promoted by desmoinesdem)


Iowa is well-positioned to be a leader in the rapidly growing green economy. That requires savvy policy and business-development actions to continue seizing strategic opportunities for progress.

 What's at stake: Iowa's competitiveness and the jobs of the future as the global economy transitions to cleaner technologies for global-warming solutions.

Energy, environmental, employment, economic and national-security goals are converging. President Barack Obama and Congress are moving toward realigning our nation to accelerate clean-energy development to create new jobs and achieve significant greenhouse-gas pollution reductions. Clean-energy development is a win-win-win for job creatin, economic growth and better environmental quality. Three major opportunies:

Energy efficiency

Making our homes, businesses and public buildings more energy efficient is a no-brainer. We really can't afford costly energy waste in today's economy, when household budgets and businesses' bottom lines are strained. Retrofitting buildings with more efficient lighting, heating and cooling, windows and other equipment will create new, good-paying electrical, plumbing, carpentry and construction jobs.

Energy efficiency reduces utility bills, thus helping both businesses' bottom lines and household budgets. It plugs the billion-dollar energy drain that is leaking Iowa's money to states that produce natural gas and coal. Energy efficiency is the best, fastest, cleanest and cheapest way to meet power needs and avoid global-warming pollution.

Iowa's energy-efficiency winners include Pella Windows, Musco Lighting, Cenergy, providing energy design and consulting, and skilled union trade workers performing energy-efficiency upgrades in commercial and public buildings. A new farm bill program championed by Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin provides grants for energy-efficiency improvements for farms and rural small businesses. The economic-stimulus legislation provides $20 billion more nationally for energy efficiency.

Wind power

Wind is the nation's fastest-growing energy resource. Iowa has nearly 3,000 megawatts installed. Six major manufacturing plants employing more than 1,000 people are operating or planned. Iowa manufacturers specializing in steel fabrication, castings and gears fit well into the wind-industry supply chain.

Huge wind-turbine blades and towers are increasingly being made near the installation sites in the Midwest to ease transportation and logistics. States with supportive policies are gaining business. Iowa is well-positioned to benefit from the national renewable-energy standard being considered by Congress.

New passenger rail

The economic-stimulus legislation includes $9.3 billion for high-speed rail and improved Amtrak service. The Midwest high-speed rail network would connect 11 major cities within a 400-mile radius of Chicago and the mid-sized cities in between.

Gov. Chet Culver and Congressman Leonard Boswell are calling for new Des Moines-Iowa City-Chicago rail service. These new trains can improve transportation mobility, pull together the regional economy, create jobs and help the environment by reducing pollution. The Greater Des Moines Partnership, labor unions and the Environmental Law & Policy Center are working together to get new rail service going.

Solving global-warming problems is our generation's moral, business, policy, political and technological challenge. The global economy is transforming with the rapidly growing trillion-dollar clean-energy technology sector. Lots of jobs and money are at stake. Iowa should seize the strategic opportunities and use its competitive advantages to help lead the growing green economy of the future.

HOWARD A. LEARNER is the executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center

About the Environmental Law and Policy Center and Iowa Global Warming Campaign:
ELPC is the Midwest’s leading public interest environmental, legal advocacy and eco-business
innovation organization. We are environmental entrepreneurs who engage in creative business deal
making with diverse interests to put into practice our belief that environmental progress
and economic development can be achieved together.

Kiernan can't do it alone

Congratulations to Des Moines City Council member Michael Kiernan, who was elected to chair the Iowa Democratic Party on Saturday, along with First Vice-Chair Sue Dvorsky, Second Vice-Chair Chris Peterson, Treasurer Ken Sagar and Secretary Dori Rammelsberg-Dvorak.

I was pleased to read Kiernan’s remarks from his first press conference:

“We have over 100,000 new registered voters in this state who are Democrats, hundreds of new activists. I think our key is to keep these folks in the party, to bring them home permanently. I think they’ve stopped by for a visit, and it’s our job to reach out to those new voters and bring them home permanently.”  

Kiernan said Democrats will use new technology, social platforms and grassroots engagement to bring additional people into the party and bring newly registered Democrats home to roost.

“Now it’s about telling these folks that they’re welcome in our party and making sure that they know they have a seat at our table permanently” […]

Kiernan echoed these points in the press release from the Iowa Democratic Party, which I’ve posted after the jump.

It’s good to know the IDP’s leader understands that we can’t count on first-time Democratic voters to continue to support the party. This is especially true because President Barack Obama will not be on the ballot in 2010. Many newly-registered Iowa Democrats were mobilized by Obama’s presidential campaign.

Kiernan noted his family’s tradition of “Democratic public service” on Saturday. He seems to be no more than two degrees of separation removed from anyone who’s anyone in Iowa Democratic circles. Tom Harkin held one of his first steak fry events at the Kiernans’ family farm.

I expect that this political legacy will greatly shorten Kiernan’s learning curve as the new party chairman. His mother, Joan Kiernan, has been a Democratic activist for decades and served as the IDP’s secretary in the past.

Michael Kiernan has also had a close-up view of election campaigns at all levels. His father ran successfully for the Madison County supervisors. His mother was involved in Dick Gephardt’s presidential campaigns. Michael Kiernan managed Chet Culver’s first bid for secretary of state in 1998 and Preston Daniels’ successful mayoral campaign in Des Moines the same year. He also won a special election for a seat on the Des Moines City Council in 2004. (He has not disclosed whether he plans to seek re-election to that position this fall.)

With this extensive campaign experience, Kiernan has seen what works and what doesn’t work for Iowa Democrats. That’s bound to help the IDP’s “coordinated campaign” going into the 2010 midterms. The national political environment is likely to be less favorable for Democrats than it was in 2006 and 2008, so the IDP will have to be at the top of its game in getting out the vote. (It can’t hurt that Kiernan is on good terms with labor union officials.)

Turnout is always lower in midterm elections. In 2006, about 1.05 million Iowans cast ballots for governor, whereas turnout in the most recent presidential election was about 1.5 million. Clearly not all of the newly-registered Democrats will vote in 2010, but even if only half of them turn out, that could give Democrats a significant advantage.

Kiernan and other party leaders can do plenty to build on the IDP’s success with early voting, but the mechanics of GOTV efforts won’t be enough to keep new voters in the Democratic fold.

Here’s where Governor Chet Culver and the Democratic leadership in the state legislature come in. Coasting on the usual advantages of incumbency is not going to be enough, especially if the economy is still in bad shape in 2010.

The best way to change Iowa from a purple state to a blue state is for Democratic elected officials to deliver real, lasting change. That will involve taking on some big problems despite the political risks. In a time of budget scarcity, state legislators can’t just throw money at a lot of popular programs.

Nothing succeeds like success. If Democrats can show that their governance made a tangible difference in the lives of Iowans, it will be easier to give voters a reason to back Culver and Democratic legislators again in 2010. I’ve got a few suggestions:

-Reduce the influence of money in politics by approving a voluntary “clean elections” system on the model of Maine or Arizona;

-Reject new coal fired power plants (as several of our neighboring states have done) and increase our capacity to generate wind and solar power;

-Allow “local control” of large hog confinements (agricultural zoning at the county level);

-Make progress toward providing light rail in the Ames/Ankeny/Des Moines and Iowa City/Cedar Rapids corridors.

I can’t say I’m optimistic about the Democratic leadership taking on any of those tasks, because powerful corporate interests could line up against them.

But I am convinced that we need to have something big to show for four years of Democratic control at the statehouse and Terrace Hill. Give Kiernan something to sell to the voters he’s trying to keep in the Democratic fold.

The IDP’s press release announcing Kiernan’s election is after the jump.

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Iowa moves up to second in installed wind capacity

Iowa moved into second place in 2008 in terms of wind power generating capacity, according to this press release from the American Wind Energy Association. (Hat tip to the person who put this link on the Iowa Renewable Energy Association’s e-mail loop.)

Last year Iowa dropped to fourth in wind energy capacity, behind Texas, California and Minnesota. Now Iowa trails only Texas.

2008 was a banner year for the wind energy industry as a whole. More facts and figures can be found in the American Wind Energy Association release, which I’ve posted after the jump.

The renewable energy tax credit has helped promote installations of wind turbines around the country. It was scheduled to expire on January 1, 2010. However, a three-year extension to that tax credit was added to the economic stimulus package the House of Representatives is voting on today.

Congressman Bruce Braley (IA-01) has introduced a bill to extend the renewable energy tax credit for seven years. That bill is currently under consideration by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Extending this tax credit is a no-brainer. It helps the environment by increasing the production of clean, renewable energy, and it creates jobs by increasing demand for products like wind turbines and solar panels.

In addition to offering tax credits, the federal government could help expand wind power capacity by investing in more transmission lines and adopting an ambitious renewable electricity standard (for instance, requiring that 20 percent of our electricity come from clean, renewable sources by 2020).

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Events coming up this week

As always, post a comment or send an e-mail (desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com) if I’ve left out any important event.

Monday, November 10:

Center on Sustainable Community’s 4th Bi-Annual Building a Sustainable Iowa Professional Training Workshop will be held the week of November 10th through 15th in three locations this year. We are excited to bring Marc Richmond, a national leader in the green building movement, back to Iowa to present this two day course in Cedar Falls, Ankeny and Fairfield. The Cedar Falls course will take place on November 10-11. This course is recognized by the building community as the most comprehensive residential green building training course offered in the state so plan to attend!

For more information visit www.icosc.com or contact Emily at emily@icosc.com or (515) 277-6222.

A Local Food Dinner will be held Monday, Nov. 10, at the University of Northern Iowa Commons Ball Room at 6 p.m. The event is sponsored by the Northern Iowa Food & Farm Partnership at the UNI Center for Energy & Environmental Education. Dr. Preston Maring, MD, will speak on “Sustaining Iowa: Making the connections between food, health and land.”  Pre-registration is required by contacting andrea.geary@uni.edu, 319-273-7883.

The Food, Health and Land Connection: California physician Dr. Preston Maring will be in Iowa to present “Sustaining Iowa: Making the Connection between Food, Health and the Land,” and to share his passion for local food. Maring is Associate Physician-in-Chief at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland, where he helped start a weekly farmers market at the hospital. He has his own blog with weekly recipes for fresh produce that gets about 50,000 page views each month. His presentation is scheduled at: Noon, November 10, 140 Schaeffer Hall, University of Iowa, Iowa City; 7:30 p.m., November 10, Commons Ball Room, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls; and 7 p.m., November 11, 2050 Agronomy Hall, Iowa State University, Ames. Following each presentation, local speakers will share Iowa stories about the benefits of local food. They include: Iowa City chef Kurt Michael Friese, author of A Cook’s Journey: Slow Food in the Heartland, and editor for Edible Iowa River Valley magazine; Story County Planning and Zoning director Leanne Harter, about the county’s new Local Foods Systems Initiative.

Tuesday, November 11:

The Residential Green Building Workshop organized by the Center on Sustainable Communities continues in Cedar Falls.

Wednesday, November 12:

The Residential Green Building Workshop organized by the Center on Sustainable Communities begins in Ankeny.

A workshops on Managing Floods of the Future: Concepts, Tools and Success Stories will be held at the UNI Center for Energy & Environmental Education (CEEE) from 8:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Some of the nations’ best minds on ecological floodplain management will make presentations. The workshops are primarily for elected officials, planners, economic development staff and community leaders. To register, e-mail/call Barbara.payton@uni.edu, 319-273-2573.

Thursday, November 13:

The Residential Green Building Workshop organized by the Center on Sustainable Communities continues in Ankeny.

A workshop on Managing Floods of the Future: Concepts, Tools and Success Stories will be held at the Johnson County Fairground/Iowa City from 8:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Some of the nations’ best minds on ecological floodplain management will make presentations. The workshops are primarily for elected officials, planners, economic development staff and community leaders. To register, e-mail/call Barbara.payton@uni.edu, 319-273-2573.

Wind Rights Legal Forum: The Drake University Agricultural Law Center is sponsoring a half-day Continuing Legal Education workshop for lawyers and other interested officials on legal issues relating to the wind rights agreements being used in Iowa. Speakers will discuss wind agreements from the perspectives of wind developers, landowners, and neighbors. Speakers will also discuss the potential for legislation and local regulation of wind development. The forum will be from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. at the Drake University Legal Clinic located at 24th and University. The fee is $40 and registration information can be found at www.law.drake.edu/cle.  For more information contact Prof. Neil Hamilton at neil.hamilton@drake.edu.

Energy Efficiency Plans and Programs Legislative Study Committee Meeting: Increasing energy efficiency is a great way to save money and help keep Iowa’s air and water clean. On November 13, utility companies, environmental organizations, and state agencies will discuss energy efficiency plans and possibilities for 2009. The discussion is tentatively scheduled to begin at 9:15 a.m. in room 19 of the State Capitol Building, with three Iowa environmental groups presenting from 1:50 p.m. to 2:15 pm. To confirm the schedule, or if you’d like to express your own views at the meeting, call the Iowa Legislative Services Agency: (515) 281-3566. To see the meeting agenda, visit http://www.legis.state.ia.us/l… The State Capitol Building is at East 12th & Grand, Des Moines, IA 50319.

Friday, November 14:

The Residential Green Building Workshop organized by the Center on Sustainable Communities begins in Fairfield.

Annual Fall Tri-State Gathering of Women in Agriculture, November 14-16, YMCA Camp Pepin, Stockholm, WI. Education and networking, potluck, silent auction. Workshops to include felting and eco-preneuring; virtual farm tours. $99 for two nights’ lodging and three meals. Co-sponsored by Women, Food and Agriculture Network. Contact Stacey Brown to register, 515-231-1199,  staceyleighbrown@yahoo.com.

Saturday, November 15:

The Residential Green Building Workshop organized by the Center on Sustainable Communities continues in Fairfield.

Last day for early-bird registration for the fourth annual Natural Living Expo, which will take place in Des Moines on March 28-29, 2009. In my non-blog life, I am helping organize this event, which is free to the public. Businesses or non-profit organizations oriented toward healthy or environmentally-friendly living can contact me (desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com) for more information about exhibiting at the expo. There is a significant discount for registering by November 15, but we will still take registrations after that date.

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Yes, we can meet our baseload needs with clean, renewable energy

I am getting tired of hearing that the U.S. needs to expand our so-called “clean coal” and nuclear power electricity generation in order to meet our baseload needs in the future. Not only does this false choice understate the potential to reduce our electricity consumption through conservation and efficiency measures, it also underestimates how much electricity we could generate through wind and solar power.

Look at what happened in the past year, even as George Bush’s administration did little to promote wind and solar energy:

According to the latest “Monthly Electricity Review” issued by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (October 3, 2008), net U.S. generation of electricity from renewable energy sources surged by 32 percent in June 2008 compared to June 2007.

Renewable energy (biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) totaled 41,160,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) in June 2008 up from 31,242,000 MWh in June 2007. Renewables accounted for 11.0 percent of net U.S. electricity generation in June 2008 compared to 8.6 percent in June 2007. Compared to June 2007, wind power grew by 81.6 percent in June 2008 while solar and conventional hydropower experienced increases of 42.6 percent and 34.7 percentrespectively. Geothermal energy also enjoyed a slight increase (0.8percent) while biomass (wood + waste) remained relatively unchanged.

Years ago, some people thought it was a pipe dream to ask Congress to require that 10 percent of U.S. electricity be generated from renewable sources by 2010. Yet even in the absence of a congressional mandate, we exceeded that number two years ahead of schedule.

Just think of what could be done if we had a president and Congress committed to expanding wind and solar power in this country.

To learn more about and support the growth of renewable electricity generation in Iowa, get involved in the Iowa Renewable Energy Association.

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The Bush administration is more brazen than you thought possible

It’s no surprise that the Bush administration and other Republican politicians would seize on high gasoline prices as an excuse to expand offshore drilling for oil. Never mind that oil companies apparently are not fully utilizing the leases they already have to drill offshore, as Tom Harkin points out in a statement excerpted at iPol.

But are you cynical enough not to be surprised by this story in the New York Times?

Faced with a surge in the number of proposed solar power plants, the federal government has placed a moratorium on new solar projects on public land until it studies their environmental impact, which is expected to take about two years.      

The Bureau of Land Management says an extensive environmental study is needed to determine how large solar plants might affect millions of acres it oversees in six Western states – Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

But the decision to freeze new solar proposals temporarily, reached late last month, has caused widespread concern in the alternative-energy industry, as fledgling solar companies must wait to see if they can realize their hopes of harnessing power from swaths of sun-baked public land, just as the demand for viable alternative energy is accelerating.

If that makes you mad, get involved with the Iowa Renewable Energy Association. Their list of upcoming events includes a residential solar energy workshop on July 19, as well as a huge annual Energy Expo, which will be in Cedar Falls the weekend of September 13 and 14.

Speaking of renewable energy, the Iowa News Service ran this report on growing demand for wind turbine technicians, which has prompted Iowa community colleges to create new programs for training them.

Also from the Iowa News Service, I found this report on how farmers can increase their cash flow by owning their own wind turbine.  

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Sierra Club: Iowa falls to fourth in wind power

Friday was the last day of public testimony before the Iowa Utilities Board on the proposed new coal-fired power plant in Marshalltown. The Sierra Club put out a release noting that while Iowa debates building more coal plants, other states in the region are overtaking us in wind power capacity.

Key excerpt:

“The difference is clearly policy,” said Mark Kresowik with the Sierra Club’s National Coal Campaign in Iowa.  “Illinois and Minnesota have passed policies that look to the future, such as Renewable Electric Standards, carbon dioxide reduction targets, and even a moratorium on new coal plants.  Iowa’s energy policy remains in the 20th century.”

Time for the Democratic-controlled legislature to do more on this front for Iowa. I’ve put the full text of the press release after the jump. It’s worth a read.

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