This article was written about Kansas, but I challenge you to let it apply to your state and locale too. The time has come for energy populism.
First published as column in The Hillsboro Free Press, Hillsboro, Kansas
I’ve always enjoyed listening to former Marion County Commissioner
Howard Collett because of his ability “to think outside the box.”
For instance, I have heard Howard recommend planting the county’s dirt roads to buffalo grass to hold them in place from erosion and wear.
Such thinking requires a person to have the ability to leap from more
commonly considered paths to those that usually are not thought of, but
may end up having greater value.
But this article isn’t about dwelling on Howard’s merits, no matter how
great they are. It’s about jumping out of the box to consider something
new—and Howard’s buffalo-grass idea was an illustration.
This article is also not an opinion on whether the bond proposal based
on a 1 percent sales tax to build a new county jail on the November
ballot should pass or fail.
But, I have to consider—and this is Jerry Engler jumping outside the
box—if the opportunity arises, what other thing would I like to see
Marion County pass a 1 percent sales tax to support?
Jumping outside the box for ideas has become a pleasure for me anyway since I find many of the boxes created for us are half filled with kitty litter.
So, if Jerry could rule the world for a few minutes, and could leave it
to the attorneys to figure out where the State of Kansas has
jurisdiction and where the county commission jurisdiction, what would I
The top concerns in Marion County right now are energy and the economy.
Some of my favorite stories I’ve written done include talking to people
like Gary Johnson, a former electrical engineer for Kansas State
University doing wind-energy research, and now a consultant for wind farms.
Johnson has called Kansas a “new Saudi Arabia” when it comes to
comparing oil with wind as an energy source. He said when it comes to
wind energy, “This is the gold rush.”
He also has said the companies putting up wind turbine “farms” largely
are interested in large plots of land under a single ownership for room
and ease of development.
So, if you’re still with me, Jerry, outside his box, wants to say that
when it comes to energy development, he’s for the little guy and this
county’s economic well-being. I want you in the rush, putting some gold
in your own pockets.
Aside from a wonderful agricultural base, the biggest first-level
economic production base this county has to offer is energy, wind and solar.
This a case where the county needs to jump outside the box and become an advocate for its little guys. It’s less of a gamble than a casino would have been.
I propose the county use its resources—or the state, if anybody in
Topeka truly listens to the grass roots—to create the framework and help finance an energy cooperative. This cooperative would employ its own engineer and crew.
A cooperative is jointly owned by its membership. In this case, the
cooperative members would be Marion County citizens who take advantage of what the cooperative has to offer.
The cooperative would be responsible for economically aiding and
providing the consulting base for each landowner in Marion County to
have a wind turbine if he or she can physically accommodate it.
If that person owns only 40 acres, and not 10,000 acres, so be it. Let’s
spread the wealth, not the sorrow of always being on the paying end.
In case you haven’t been thinking of it, every business and home in
Marion County usually has a roof. I propose that the same cooperative be used to place solar collectors for energy on the roof of every
individual who wants it.
I further propose that any electrical utility selling power in Marion
County be required to buy the excess energy generated by the turbines
and solar collectors owned by our citizens. Whenever it can be done, I
want to see those meters going backward, with the extra power going to
the general grid.
Let’s have some generating populism instead of seeing Westar always
being the one telling the governing bodies of our communities how much we will pay next for the energy it provides.
And this isn’t just about our wallets. It’s also about our moral
responsibility. How can we stand by and see the future of America
squandered to enrich OPEC?
How can we stand by and let global warming ruin our planet? Yes, some of us are still arguing that global warming really isn’t happening, even though the news before us indicates the ice on the Arctic Ocean will be totally melted this summer for the first time in human history.
Rural electric cooperatives worked to bring electricity to our rural
areas. Why can’t this work to send some electricity back?
It’s time for us to take care of our wallets and our environment right
in our own neighborhood. Those who would say otherwise just aren’t our friends.
So, Jerry, would you let those turbines and solar collectors ruin the
beauty of our skyline?
Well, I share your inhibitions regarding spoiling beauty, but I also
realize I have learned to look past the frequent ugliness of
transformers, power lines and highway surfaces.
So, Jerry, are you an engineer that you think you have the technical
prowess for this proposal?
No, I’m not an engineer, but I love it when those people put money in my pocket and increase my personal well-being.
So, Jerry, what about state statutes and federal laws usurping the
Kansas Corporation Commission—and all those other things that might get in the way?
Yes, I am acquainted with the stagnancy of bureaucracy. Remember, I said we were jumping out of the kitty litter for this. This is the good side
of attorneys—to help move us around this heap of stuff.
See what happens when you let a Jerry Engler out of his box? Lord, think of what I would do if I were a T. Boone Pickens. Now there’s a box worth stepping out of.