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Ring Ring. Who's There? A Wind Expert

August 23, 2010 - 10:44am

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Have a question about wind energy?

You're not alone. In 2009, about 1,200 people— ranging from farmers, teachers, county commissioners, developers and green job hopefuls —called or emailed Minnesota-based Windustry's wind hotline to learn more about the renewable energy.

"The questions are all over the map," said David Tidball, who has been fielding calls since early 2009. "It's everything from, ‘What's a wind turbine look like?' to ‘How do I get involved in a wind project of my own?'"

Windustry's mission is to provide accurate, unbiased and accessible information to the public about wind energy and help people across the country, whether it's a seventh-grader working on a school project or small business with a technical question looking to get into the wind energy sector.

The calls first come through Tidball, with the email traffic initially handled by Windustry's online community builder David Skarjune.  For help with the more detailed questions, they make use of Windustry policy analysts and program associates.

Almost 700 calls and about 450 emails came in last year. So far this year, Windustry has received about 270 calls and about the same number of emails.

Hanging up and getting to work

For many, the inquiry into Windustry is a tipping off point.

"They don't know where to start," said Skarjune. "We talk people through the process [of installing wind turbines on their properties]; what the concerns are; and what they need to learn.  We get them the resources."

Karen Butler, a school board member from Estherville, Iowa, made several calls in 2007 and 2008, looking for guidance on how to get a wind turbine erected at the Estherville Lincoln School.

"They were most helpful in helping me in my direction, as well as teaching me about this whole industry," Butler said. "They put me touch with lots of people to help me find the money, where the seminars were and about grants."

Although Butler was successful in getting a feasibility study off the ground with the help of Windustry, no wind turbine was built. "There are loops to jump through, but I know that a turbine could benefit the school district, as well as the city," she says.

One farmer in Iowa was approached by a wind developer, but before he leased over any part of his land, he wanted to learn more about it, so he called Windustry. "'Wait a minute, maybe I can do this myself,'" the farmer said," Tidball recalls.

Tidball said he has received phone calls from those seeking a career change, as well. "How do I get a job in the wind sector?" they ask.  People with technical and maintenance backgrounds and recently laid off workers are just two examples of repeat callers, he says.

Hold please

The volume of email and calls has grown over the years, Tidball says. Although, with a small staff and many other projects to attend to, he adds, precise data regarding the number of calls and e-mails from the past five years years is not available.
 
The volume of contacts is often driven by outside factors.

"I think the Obama Administration, and with the Recovery Act creating some new opportunities, raised a lot of awareness with renewable energy, specifically wind energy, which was kind of in the background prior to two years ago," Skarjune said. 

This is most likely why the volume of telephone calls was actually higher in 2009 than the current pace for 2010, Tidballs adds.

"We want people to tap into their local resources," Skarjune said. "We are pointing them to something in their area so that they can make a connection."

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