Spitting into the wind

A growing number of farmers and ranchers in Kansas are trying to block high-voltage electric transmission lines from crossing their land to carry renewable energy from the Midwest to points east. Strange that these same folks vigorously promote the Keystone XL pipeline through the Sandhills of Nebraska, but an electric “pipeline” somehow is wrong.

They argue against the Clean Line and Grain Belt line (the Clean Line runs through Iowa, the Grain Belt through Kansas). It violates their sense of property rights, of aesthetics and of safety at 600,000 volts overhead. They would prefer to raise cattle in a bucolic pastoral setting that probably never existed. It is hard to imagine Dodge City or Garden City fitting in with Shangri-La.

First, let’s discount the environmental concerns. These ranchers have depleted the Ogallala Aquifer to the point that they might not be able to water their doggies in 25 years. Without the Ogallala, cattle must give back the land to buffalo, which don’t care a whit about overhead lines.

Kansas’ crop and livestock production is bound to decline with the aquifer. Some would rather cling to a sinking ship than grab a lifeline.

Western Kansas is described by some as the Saudi Arabia of windpower. Its wind potential is second only to Texas. Yet Iowa far outpaces Kansas in wind energy production because Kansas is so steeped in the past and fearful of today. (For reference, see “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” William Allen White, Emporia Gazette, 1896. “What’s the matter with Kansas? Nothing under the shining sun. She is losing her wealth, population and standing. She has got her statesmen, and the money power is afraid of her. Kansas is all right. She has started in to raise hell, as Mrs. Lease advised, and she seems to have an over-production. But that doesn’t matter. Kansas never did believe in diversified crops. Kansas is all right. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Kansas. “Every prospect pleases and only man is vile.”

Let that not be said about Iowa.

We have the second-highest wind energy output behind Texas. Nearly a third of our state’s electricity is generated by those familiar wind turbines. We could have a lot more of them if we could solve the bottleneck of shipping that windpower to Chicago. Agland owners get royalties for right-of-way. Nobody is stealing their land, as some Kansas claim at public hearings.

Around here, some land is getting stolen because wind generators are not living up to the terms of their contracts. As turbines go dead, as they have near Alta, the property owner does not enjoy the same production royalty. That was the first wind farm in Iowa. It needs to be rebuilt and repowered with turbines that crank out two to three times as much energy. But that complex will not be redeveloped until transmission lines can clear out the backlog. Our wind capacity for Iowa is saturated. We have not even touched urban areas because we cannot get the power there.

So we hope that the good people of Kansas maintain their 1896 thinking. It will be good for Iowa. This state appears to understand that the wind may be a good cash crop (and new research says we could deploy solar energy fairly well, too). And it will no doubt be good for Texas, where even T. Boone Pickens is a wind-energy acolyte.

The next generation of Kansas cowpokes might wake up one fine Sunflower morning and realize that the wheat is gone and the cattle are baying. And there won’t even be a wind turbine there to keep them company. The cowpoke of today is blinded by the sunset in his eyes. He would rather stand knee-deep in manure and rail against tomorrow than make something of today.

Keep on trying

On face value the numbers are skewed: Just 7% of Storm Lake’s public school teachers are “minority,” but 80% of the enrollment are children of color. Looking below the surface, we find that Storm Lake has tried to recruit minority teachers (especially Latinos) but it simply is not that easy or productive. So we are growing our own teachers.

So it is pretty impressive that Storm Lake has been able to produce up to 10 teachers who are of immigrant stock. We also have 31 teacher aides who list themselves as “minority,” from Native American to Hispanic.

The Public Safety Department is working with the schools to identify local students who might like to pursue a criminal justice degree and eventually diversify the police department.

When children look up to these success stories, it makes them want to become professionals like their mentors. They will run for public boards and commissions. They will become pastors of our churches. They will be bankers, lawyers and doctors.

Storm Lake is trying, and trying mightily. We just need to keep it up until the numbers roughly match.