Change in the air; evidence on the highway

Trucks hauling wind turbine blades in Michigan. (PHOTO: EllenM1, Flickr CC)
Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Most days you can sit by the window of the Subway restaurant in Grand Rapids, Minn., and watch pieces of wind turbines inch their way through the intersection of Highways 2 and 169.

It’s quite an operation. State Patrol officers block the road. The driver must time the turn perfectly or run the risk of taking out a light pole or road sign along the sidewalk. In at least one instance trucks have had to reverse and try again.

Diners at the sub shop can compare one pivot to the next, assessing the luck or skill of each driver. But mostly the “turbine turn” happens so frequently that most patrons ignore the chaos in favor of the earthly delights of a $5 footlong.

Some might have been surprised that wind energy deliveries to the Port of Duluth and Superior broke a record in the 2019 shipping season. But motorists on this stretch of highway wouldn’t doubt the claim one bit. Each of these turbines heads west to the windy prairies of Minnesota, the Dakotas, Montana, Canada and beyond.

“Wind energy has been an important part of our cargo portfolio, dating back to our first shipments more than a decade ago,” said Jonathan Lamb, president of Duluth Cargo Connect in a recent Port Authority press release. “As the farthest inland port in North America, we’re geographically well-situated to support wind farm installations in the Upper Midwest and central Canada.”

And those deliveries will only increase. Believe me, these turbines aren’t headed for the back yards of woke hippies. They’re big enough to power a small town. These mammoths will power wind farms run by investor-owned utilities like Minnesota Power and Xcel Energy. These same companies currently burn coal and guzzle oceans of natural gas.

Why would they invest in turbines? Because even “The Man” knows that climate change is real, the energy business is changing, and that there’s future money to be made in wind, solar and other forms of renewable-source electricity.

In Appalachia, the most coal-friendly federal agenda since President Taft burned bituminous in White House stoves nevertheless failed to expand or even save the struggling coal mining industry. Murray Energy, led by one of the most outspoken coal advocates Bob Murray, nonetheless filed for bankruptcy in October. It was the third major coal bankruptcy of 2019.

True, you can’t replace coal overnight. But we’ve been gradually replacing it with cleaner burning natural gas for a generation. And, sooner than we think, we will go completely renewable. The impetus may begin with government regulation. But those rules will emerge from economic necessity.

The rancor of the climate debate tends to quickly sort people into the same political camps that divide family holidays, social media communities, and the comments section of local newspapers and TV stations. But we could acknowledge one truth.

The forest of Northern Minnesota are changing. Ask a conservative logger. Or any logger; they’re almost all conservative. Rising herds of deer drive north into the pine forests, eating pine saplings. Shallower frosts leave more pests to gobble up timber. Southern trees and brush are now more viable here, choking out more valuable trees.

Some may not acknowledge climate change as a political issue. But there’s no avoiding it as a challenge to food supplies — both in agriculture and on the tables of loggers trying to meet quotas before the swamps melt.

If you don’t believe that diesel exhaust causes climate change you must surely believe in the cargo hauled by those semis. And those rigs increasingly haul the fruits of climate change to new markets.

We Americans might not all agree about much. But we could agree that preparation for this new world and prevention of the worst effects of climate change would be good for us. In health and wellbeing, yes, and also in business.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.


  1. I think a typical wind turbine being produced these days has around a 3MW rating, which means it captures enough energy for around ~480 homes. So each blade captures enough energy for ~160 homes.

  2. Great piece Arron. I have been a windsource member since I could be down here in Mpls with Xcel. I Jumped into a solar garden over a year ago, interestingly enough propelled forward by the Kahler family. There are options. If I could pay with my energy bills somehow with carbon sequestering I certainly would do that. That being said humans somehow still create damage. But let’s minimize it.

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