Scaling Green Reviews New Film “Scaling Wind”

We’ve written previously here at Scaling Green about the excellent work being done on marketing clean energy by Professors Cathy Hartman and Edwin R. Stafford of the Center for the Market Diffusion of Renewable Energy and Clean Technology at Utah State University. In 2010, Stafford and Hartman co-produced the “peer-reviewed research documentary, ‘Wind Uprising,'” which “chronicles the turbulent journey that a wind entrepreneur and an engineer trail blazed to establish the wind power industry in Utah” and “provides important lessons for policymakers, regulators, and residents about the economic development implications of wind energy in local communities.”

Now, Hartman and Stafford (along with Michelle Nunez of GreenTech Films) are out with a new half-hour documentary, entitled Scaling Wind, which “addresses the primary barriers to America achieving 20% of its electricity generation from wind energy.” As the filmmakers explain, “Scaling Wind” draws from the 2008 Department of Energy report, “20% Wind Energy by 2030,” and “profiles people working to overcome the challenges facing achievement of the 20% vision, including the need to modernize and expand the power grid and smarten the nation’s energy policy for a stable market.”

I watched the documentary and found it to be highly informative as well as encouraging for the future of wind power in the U.S. A few key points:

  • According to Edwin Stafford: “Iowa Republican Governor Terry Branstad talks with pride about his signing the first Renewable Energy Standard in the nation back in 1983 and how dozens of other states have followed Iowa’s lead. Twenty years later, he’s been elected governor again, and he’s pleased by how his vision has not only resulted in Iowa procuring more than 20 percent of its electricity from wind but also has resulted in jobs and economic development for Iowa.”
  • Stafford adds that “Governor Branstad goes on to talk about his support for a national Renewable Energy Standard, which is something now being sponsored by Democratic Senators Mark Udall (Colorado) and Tom Udall (New Mexico) in Congress.”
  • Cathy Hartman notes that “Iowa, Kansas, and South Dakota are already securing more than 20 percent of their electricity from wind,” that “Texas is getting 10 percent of its electricity from wind,” and that “‘Scaling Wind’ shows what these states can teach the nation in creating jobs, expanding domestic manufacturing, and boosting rural economies.”
  • Jason Groeneweld, Director of Duke Energy Renewables, says that “what the internet has done for communication, renewable energy is about to do for electricity.”
  • Randon Wilson, an energy attorney at Jones Waldo, argues that “we are [at] a pivotal point” in terms of renewable energy in this country. Wilson adds: “I am a Republican, and I have been all my career. I really believe in conservative government, but I think that fits very well in our need to develop alternative energy in this country.”
  • Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer explains that when he was elected governor, “we didn’t have a single megawatt of electricity produced in Montana from wind power,” but that “within months of us signing the renewable portfolio standard, there was $300 million invested in the first wind farm,” and today companies “from all over the world [are] coming to [invest in] Montana from as far away as Spain, companies from Canada, companies from Portugal, and around the world.”
  • Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, a Republican, argues that “It would make sense for a renewable energy standard for the country because it would give us some stability and predictability in this industry.”
  • Peggy Beltrone, former Cascade County, Montana Commissioner, points out the tremendous value of “saving water in the desert West” by switching to renewable energy sources like wind power.

One challenge to the expansion of wind power in the U.S. is the need for new power transmission lines, and the movie discusses that issue at length. The bottom line is that without those lines, the tremendous wind energy potential in this country could end up largely “stranded.” The film notes that although this transmission capacity costs a lot of money, it’s only a small fraction of the cost to build 300,000 megawatts of wind generating capacity by 2030. Also, by building transmission lines and tapping into energy across the country, the chance to revitalize rural areas, by bringing economic development and jobs, can be realized.

In terms of messaging, the film emphasizes that wind power development should be supported across the political spectrum, but perhaps for somewhat different reasons. Sarah Wright of Utah Clean Energy points out that, because “environmental messages don’t resonate well with the conservative legislature in Utah…business speaks loudly,” it is “critical to have industry representatives letting our legislature know the benefits of renewable energy, not just for their own company, but also for the state of Utah.” Along these same lines, the Clean Energy Business Coalition of Utah has enlisted some of the most conservative members of the legislature to advance renewables. In the end, that’s just smart marketing.

Emphasizing the appeal of wind power to people across the political spectrum, Stafford tells me that “in the screenings we’ve had so far, I think audiences are surprised by the bipartisan support that wind energy enjoys at the state level because of its rural economic development and job benefits.” Of course, we still need politicians to step up to the plate on this. As Hartman says, “Now is the time for a new breed of leaders who can envision and implement change throughout a cross-section of arenas including business, government, and civil society.” For all our sakes, let’s hope they do that!

P.S. Stafford tells me that the next major screening of “Scaling Wind” will be March 6-7 at the Intermountain Sustainability Summit in Ogden, Utah, featuring Interior Secretary Sally Jewell as the keynote speaker.