Blowing in the Wind
April 2004
Are your agricultural revenues gone with the wind? Are you tired of walking a tightrope to make ends meet? Perhaps you should consider cultivating a sideline… maybe something easy, clean and renewable like the wind!” This was basically the message being communicated at the recently held National Western Stock Show & Rodeo in Colorado, where some 250 producers were on site to hear about soft energy potential for the agricultural industry.

There was a lot of puff about the advantages of wind, sun and water to reduce farm operating costs. For example, it seems that a solar panel no bigger than a shoebox can produce enough energy to charge the electrical fences surrounding a large cattle farm. But, even more enticing is that renewable energy can also become a source of added revenue for agricultural operations. According to Jim Green, a wind energy specialist, a farmer who would agree to having wind energy installations on his land could make as much as $2,500 to $4,000 US per wind turbine, per year. These structures, although 250 feet in height, occupy very little surface area on the ground, that way they don’t hinder agricultural activities nor do they disturb grazing cattle.

Now this is indeed a new way to diversify farming revenues! In the past, industries, and primarily turbine manufacturers, were responsible for developing windmills. But today, there is an increasing number of agricultural producers determined to carve their own niche in this new market. In fact, I recently learned about two cooperatives in Minnesota that were established by agricultural producers to purchase and install a series of wind turbines for the purpose of selling their electricity to local public services. And a little before Christmas, the Co-op Group, a large grouping of cooperatives in the United Kingdom involved in agricultural activities submitted a second windmill project for their farmland. The plan specifies that the new installations, without hindering farming activities, would generate enough electricity to meet the needs of 17,000 households for all of the windmills’ lifecycle, which is 25 years. The cooperative group is more than pleased, and with reason, because their project will clear the atmosphere of more than one million tons of carbon dioxide discharges.

Is wind the new manna? A tempting wish. But what if this were possible right here? With the controversy surrounding the Suroît power station and the willingness to respect our commitment to the Kyoto protocol, some very serious individuals are promoting the potential of wind turbines in Québec. Because, Lord knows, we have wide open spaces. And we have wind, lots of it. There are of course other individuals, just as serious, who point out that, in Québec, wind is not particularly reliable and could only be a source of support energy, at best. Yet, Gilles Francoeur wrote in a recent article in Le Devoir that “the latest research from Environment Canada’s Department of Meteorology intimated that Northern Québec housed three of the largest wind energy sites in Canada, or even America… ” But that’s in the Far North. This discovery can’t really be applied as a business opportunity for agricultural producers. However, there is unanimity on the considerable potential of windmills in the Gaspé. Take note agricultural producers in the lower St. Lawrence. As for the rest of Québec, specialists will need to study the issue a little longer. If results are conclusive, we can then encourage farmers to diversify their productions and store up the wind’s energy then reap its benefits. Until then, we can always keep an eye on how those daring Minnesotan agricultural producers are doing on this newly developed market.

Colette Lebel, agr.
Director of Cooperative Affairs
La Coop fédérée
Fax: (514) 858-2025


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