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The Midwest Is Going Off The Grid ... One Turbine At A Time

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As a Midwest-based venture capitalist, I focus on rapid growth sectors for the Midwest (particularly in Michigan), and one sector I have recently fallen in love with is wind energy. Okay, maybe not love, but certainly lust.

It is lust not solely for the wind industry's rapid rate of growth (yeah, VCs have a curious list of turn-ons), but lust for the promise that wind energy brings. To me, harnessing the power of the wind to power the normal functions of our lives without harming the planet is both beautiful and romantic, and it makes a ton of logical, ecological and economic sense.

The wind will blow regardless of what us humans do -- it is there for the taking -- no proactive, destructive actions like digging up the land, drilling the ocean bed or diverting the natural course of our waterways are required to generate our needed megawatts. As my evangelical environmentalist friend puts it, "wind is the sweet breath of God" blowing across our landscape, capable of charging our phones, toasting our bread and keeping us cool under a blazing sun. (An interesting concept, though having grown up downwind of Chino, California's enormous dairy farms, many days I wished God used some Tic-Tacs.)

My infatuation with wind power was titillated on a recent evening, while of all things watching a dreadful Monday Night Football game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns. (Man, do the Browns stink! They actually made me feel good, even if for a fleeting moment, about being a Detroit Lions fan.) In what was a forgettable game, an unforgettable image was emblazoned in my mind: A tall, white wind turbine gently spinning just beyond the Cleveland football stadium's walls.

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Great Lakes Science Center

I do not know exactly where that captured electricity is used (dear readers from Cleveland, please comment below if you know!), but I like to think that it was helping supply the electricity used in the stadium. God may have helped keep the lights on, but He certainly left Browns-fans' prayers unanswered in helping their hapless offense find the end zone that night...

This turbine, along with the approximately 1,100 megawatts-worth of community wind turbines scattered throughout the Midwest, represent an important part of the future of energy for everyone, in particular the Midwest. ("Community wind" describes small, 1-10 turbine sites, not utility-scale "wind farm" projects.) Its location, steps from a stadium full of demoralized football fans, underscores the ubiquitous nature of wind energy -- it's safe, quiet and pollutant-free, allowing us to turn even densely populated urban settings into energy generating sites.

The Midwest and Great Plains states have some of the best wind currents in the world. The Rust Belt is getting a make-over as the Wind Belt, and not just because it is windy. States like Iowa, Minnesota and Michigan are quietly becoming hot beds of activity for the global wind industry across the entire wind turbine supply chain and a critical source of growth for local economic revitalization. My next post will further validate this assertion and highlight some companies leading the Midwest wind energy charge, but since this post is all about lust, here is a teaser: According to data from Windustry, just eight Midwest and Great Plains states provide nearly 70% of all installed Community wind capacity in the U.S. America's wind energy revolution is getting underway and the Midwest has firmly positioned itself at the forefront.

Wind turbines like the one at Cleveland stadium are sprouting up all across the Midwest, at a faster rate than anywhere in the country -- contributing to the energy needs of our schools, hospitals, waste-water treatment facilities and stadiums. It moves us Midwesterners ever-so-slightly closer to realizing the promise of wind energy: taking us off the Fossil Fuel Energy Grid, one turbine at a time.