Murray County, situated in the southwestern corner of Minnesota, is no stranger to wind energy. Wind turbines have become a familiar part of the landscape. The county has used revenue to improve local infrastructure, and many landowners have received an additional stream of income from hosting a turbine. Still, more wind development is planned in the area and residents will be impacted in new ways. More turbines will continue to change the agricultural landscape, the distribution of tax revenue may shift, and landowner leasing opportunities could change as turbines grow taller and more efficient.
Community members and landowners have personal experiences and knowledge about their surroundings that might not be immediately visible to others. Our upcoming Murray County Energy Dialogue, running from February 20–22, will bring community members together to discuss those perspectives as they relate to wind energy and determine what they would like to see in their county’s future. By sharing these personal insights in combination with high-quality presenter information, participants will have an opportunity to collectively navigate their reactions to expanded wind development and have their voices heard.
Since 2014, The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and the Jefferson Center have convened the Rural Climate Dialogues and Rural Energy Dialogues to help Minnesotans plan for the future of local energy and climate resilience in their communities. These events put community members at the center of the policy questions that will impact them, giving them the knowledge, resources and time they need to explore their thoughts and feelings and create recommendations. At the end of the multi-day events, their recommendations are shared with local decision-makers, and we work with community members, officials and organizations to help bring their ideas to life.
As Joe Schomacker, Minnesota House Representative for Murray County and surrounding areas, wrote in the Star Tribune, “I’ve seen firsthand how these projects are breathing new life into many communities in those areas… I encourage project developers to remain committed to working closely with host communities and local landowners to make sure their concerns are heard throughout the development process.”
Recruiting the Community
We’re in the midst of sending out postcards to the entirety of Murray County now, as well as advertising online, in local newspapers, on the radio and putting up posters in the community to invite all residents to apply to participate in the event. Once the application deadline closes, we will randomly select 18 participants who also demographically represent the community. Participants will be reimbursed for their time, as well as for childcare and transportation, removing some of the biggest common barriers for civic participation.
Exploring the Issues
We make it clear in our recruitment materials that people don’t need to be an “expert” to participate. Everyone is welcome to apply, whether they are totally new to wind energy or already have a turbine on their land. With this range of knowledge and experience in the room, our first step at the Dialogue is to provide space for participants to share their experiences and stories, get to know one another and build enough trust to work together honestly and productively for two and a half days. Then, participants hear from local experts who discuss relevant topics with the group to help inform and get everyone on the same page. These presentations will include topics like:
- how wind development actually happens, from the proposal to the first kilowatt generated
- how county-level decision-making works, including how citizens can get involved
- financial and quality of life considerations for county residents and landowners
In September, we hosted a similar conversation in Redwood County, which is nearby in Southwestern Minnesota. Many of the participants reflected that after hearing these speakers and participating in the discussion, they felt better prepared to talk about wind energy and the energy system. One participant, Chrissy, said: “I didn’t know anything as to how wind energy happens or how it starts, but I learned quite a bit at the Dialogue. It has come up since, and I like talking about it, especially now that I know a little bit more. I feel comfortable discussing it with my friends and family, and seeing what their thoughts and feelings are about it.”
After hearing from experts about different parts of wind energy development and generation and how it will specifically impact Murray County, participants will have time to work together to create recommendations for Murray County’s wind development future. At the event in Redwood County, residents emphasized the exciting future for wind development and all the benefits it could bring to the community, but also realized the importance of community input in their final report. They wrote, “If we get started with thoughtful exploration of expanded wind development in Redwood County now, we can move ahead faster. It’s time to move forward.”
A few months after the Redwood County Dialogue wrapped up, Chrissy and Tom (another participant) presented the group’s recommendations at a Redwood County Commission meeting. Direct engagement with local and regional decision makers is critical to the development of a community-driven energy future.
If you live in Murray County and are interested in applying to participate in the Murray County Energy Dialogue in February, visit the Rural Dialogues website for more information. If you don’t live in Murray County, you’re still welcome to come and observe the event. We’ll post updates on the Rural Dialogues Facebook page and website.
There’s a frequent misconception that energy and climate change are too taboo or polarizing for the public to discuss. But we’ve seen throughout our work that the real issue is a lack of opportunity for civil discourse, few chances to meet with fellow community members of diverse perspectives and a need for high-quality information. We’re bridging that gap by creating a space where people can learn more about climate and energy, ask questions, listen to experts, increase their understanding, and participate in more productive and collaborative conversations.
We’re excited to see what unique ideas community members come up with for the future of Murray County’s energy system, and we hope you’ll follow along!