Eighteen Redwood County residents calling communities from Morgan and Wanda to the Lower Sioux and Redwood Falls their home gathered at the Redwood Area Community Center Sept. 12 to take part in a unique program.

The group, hailing from varied walks of life, represented a cross-section of the county, and they were there to take part in a three-day conversation. Known as the rural energy dialogue, these individuals were randomly selected from a pool of applicants to represent Redwood County in a discussion about wind energy, facilitated by the Jefferson Center and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

The group was there to learn about wind energy, as well as the inner workings of local government, all in an effort to develop a report that could then serve as a talking point related to the issue of renewable energy and its future in the Redwood area.

According to Kyle Bozentko, executive director of the Jefferson Center, the group selected for the dialogue would be actively participating in the conversation through a model known as a “citizen’s jury,” as it brainstormed ideas regarding how improvements could be made to the energy system in Redwood County.

At the end of the third day, a report was compiled that outlined the thoughts and decisions made by the group as a whole. A summary of the work was provided in that report that included a “statement to neighbors” written by the group that outlines what it did and what it accomplished. 

In that statement, the group indicated, “When people work together, they have the opportunity to get a lot done. We can see a future in wind energy and are inspired by the possibility of realizing its benefits…This is a subject not to be taken lightly, and there is a lot of thought and care that needs to be put into the process of wind development. If we get started with thoughtful exploration of expanded wind development now, we can move ahead faster. It’s time to move forward.”

According to Tara Ritter, senior program associate for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, the hope is that representatives who took part in the dialogue will have the opportunity to present the report to the county commissioners and then to other organizations in the county and region as a way to start making progress in the area of wind energy.

The report, said Ritter, is a set of recommendations based on the input of the 18 individuals who took part in the dialogue. The report indicates some of the benefits and drawbacks of wind energy in the county.

The report also provides the results of a vote among the participants who were asked “based on what you have learned through this experience, do you feel residents should support expanded/future wind development efforts/projects in Redwood County?”

Ten of the participants (56 percent) voted yes under most circumstances/whenever possible, while eight of the participants (42 percent) voted yes but only if certain conditions are met or are in place.

Ritter said there has been a lot of wind energy development taking place in southwest Minnesota, and this dialogue helps get Redwood County on the same page with others who are getting involved with renewable energy.

There has not been a lot of wind energy development in Redwood County to this point, added Ritter, but that does not mean it won’t change in the future.

More about the rural energy dialogue, including the full report, can be found online at ruraldialogues.org/redwood-county.