ARGOS – The cars filled the small parking lot of the Argos Municipal Building, overflowing onto the grass and gravel lots surrounding the area. It was 11 a.m. Saturday morning, and residents of Marshall and Fulton counties packed into a small room for an energy security forum presented by Operation Free—a coalition of veterans and national security organizations promoting clean energy.
It was clear that each person was present because they had a strong opinion about the proposed wind farm in Marshall and Fulton counties. Tensions were high, but questions and comments were reserved for the end of the meeting.
It was said early in the meeting that the forum was not intended to be focused on Next Era energy (and no Next Era representatives were present) but rather the purpose of the meeting was to look at how the use of wind and other alternative energy sources would benefit the United States military as well as the country as a whole.
Speakers were Major General George Buskirk, retired from the U.S. Army, Dan Martin, Navy veteran, and Lincoln Capstick, Army veteran. Many military veterans were in attendance.
Introducing the speakers were Jennifer Laurent, director of Marshall County Economic Development, and Terry Lee, director of Fulton County Economic Development.
“We feel (wind energy) is a very important avenue to consider,” said Laurent, adding later: “The areas under consideration will affect us all.”
Lee mentioned that further community discussions would be held in the coming months to sort out some of the specific questions residents seem to have about the Next Era project. He said that Next Era may potentially be looking at getting permits for the wind farm in fall of 2012.
“Let’s spend the next several months, or the better part of a year, working together, educating ourselves…so the decision we make is the best one,” said Lee.
The first speaker, Major General Buskirk, spoke about the military’s involvement in looking at alternative energy sources like wind and solar power.
“Renewable energy makes a lot of sense for the military in terms of oil price volatility,” said Buskirk.
Out of 190,000 vehicles in the U.S. Army, he continued, many could be made more energy efficient, reducing the county’s dependence on overseas oil.
He mentioned both the Air Force and the Navy’s intentions in the coming years to focus on using alternative forms of energy. He assured the audience that the U.S. military is behind conserving energy costs and is actively moving toward using wind and solar power.
“This is a technology that is here to stay for the foreseeable future,” said Buskirk. “What does that mean for Marshall and Fulton counties? That’s not for me to say—it’s above my pay grade, as we say in the Army. That’s up to you to decide.”
Martin, the next speaker, gave a brief overview of the financial side of the wind debate.
“By looking for alternative energy (sources) we reduce what goes in (Middle East oil vendors’) pockets,” said Martin, adding that foreign oil sellers could be using the money from high oil prices to purchase weaponry to use against American soldiers.
Martin said that he personally thinks that wind farms are a good idea, because wind is free.
The third and final speaker was Lincoln Capstick, Army veteran, who used most of his speaking time to rely an emotional story of the death of an Army counterpart. The young man passed away after a fuel tank that he was on exploded. Many soldiers, including his friend, die each year on fuel convoy missions, said Capstick.
“This dependency on fossil fuels kills Americans, from a military perspective,” said Capstick. “Can you look at these costs and not take some form of actions?”
With that, the forum begin to accept questions and comments from the listening audience. The usual concerns with wind turbines were raised, such as the impact on citizen’s health and the potential decline of property value. Several people expressed disappointment that their specific questions about the proposed wind farm in Marshall and Fulton counties were not answered by the presentation, and questioned aloud what the military had to do with the local wind farm debate.
To this Buskirk responded, “Our main purpose here is to bring you the overall picture. Your counties are part of the overall picture—you are Americans.”
Questioning went on for the better part of an hour as residents spoke passionately either for or against wind energy. Laurent and Lee reminded those present that additional meetings will be held beginning in January 2012 to specifically address Next Era’s proposed wind farm.
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