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I climbed to the top of a wind turbine and this is what I saw.

by Haley Rabic

March 4, 2015

Wind turbines on the Story County 1 Energy Center, just north of Colo. Each turbine has a 1.5-megawatt capacity and contributes to generating electricity for up to 75,000 homes. The NextEra Energy-owned wind farm has been in operation since 2008.

© Karuna Ang / Greenpeace

So who wants to climb to the top?

Instinctively my hand shot into the air and I fell in line to sign a waiver and enter the turbine.

As we climbed up the turbine we could feel the sway of the machinethe air grew colder and the shaft narrowed. It took us about 20 minutes to reach the top.

The wind we felt on the ground was nothing compared to the gusts that whipped through our clothes this high up. We were over 200 feet in the air high above the German countryside. In this moment I discovered a new admiration for wind energy.

And while the wind turbine itself was impressive, the community behind it was even more so.

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View from the top of turbine in Ellhft, Germany

How did it all start?

Our guide shared his story with ushe was one of 12 farmers who were motivated by the developing technology that promised inexpensive energy independence. They came together in the village of Ellhft, Germany to purchase a single wind turbine in 1995. This turbine provided power for each of their farms. By 2000 the farmers had purchased 6 more turbines and were generating enough electricity to power the entire community. This neighborhood was one of many in the area that had invested in (and profited from) developing wind energy.

Community wind allows groups like theirseither individuals or small businessesto jointly invest in wind projects. Because it makes renewable energy available at an affordable cost, community wind has become a significant player in the clean energy sector. In fact, Citizens, cooperatives, and communities own more than half of German renewable capacity according to the Rocky Mountain Institute.

In Germany, community wind is thriving. Greenpeace Energy even has a stake as the largest national, independent energy cooperative. With the low cost of 55 to join, the cooperative has over 23,000 members, and it provides electricity to over 110,000 users.

Sunrise behind Wind Turbine

More good news: Community wind (and solar) are on the rise in the U.S., too!

Community wind is growing in the United States, especially in the Midwest where windier conditions coupled with state tax incentives help wind thrive. School districts, neighborhoods, and businesses are joining together to produce clean energy for their communities. In most states where wind development is underway, community wind is being discussed too.

Solarize Charlotte Project Installation

And solar is simply unstoppable these days. Shared or community solar is growing quickly in areas where it is legal and incentives exist. It has become an appealing option for individuals who are unable to install solar panels on their homes directly, such as renters or owners of homes with poor solar exposure. A group of individuals can buy or lease a portion of a solar system, and then apply the savings directly to their electricity bill even if the solar panels are not located on their own roof. (A great explanation of the different types of shared solar available can be found here.)

For those who do have the capacity to install solar directly onto their roofs, efforts like Solarize Charlotte help more residents choose and install solar power on their homes at affordable costs. Solarize differs from community solar, because groups of homeowners jointly purchase a bulk order of solar panels for installation and the savings are transferred across customers to reduce the cost for everyone.

University Solar Array in Colorado

Now its your turn.

All across the world groups are coming together to invest in a future with a clean energy economy. When I climbed to the top of a wind turbine this is what I saw: inspiring possibilities. I was encouraged by the story of the farmers who saw the possibilities for new and clean energy. In that moment I knew that a clean and peaceful future was not only possible, but happening all around me. You can bring these possibilities to your neighborhood: learn more about the benefits of community solar and wind, and options for these solarize or wind models near you.

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