Farmers on the Cutting Edge of Energy

Wind is on the forefront of the energy debate, thanks to recent record-high oil prices and an advertising and lobbying push by Pickens, who is spending $58 million this election campaigning for larger infrastructure investments. His company, Mesa Power, has already spent $2 billion to construct the world's largest wind farm in Pampa, Texas.

"I've been an oilman all my life," Pickens says in one of his ads. "But this is one emergency we can't drill our way out of."

The turbine blades at Trimont are 384 feet off the ground; that's taller than the Statue of Liberty.

But not everybody loves wind. For years, residents of Massachusetts have been fighting a proposal to create a wind farm off Cape Cod.

The key argument against wind is typically aesthetics. The towers are giant but quiet. They make about the same amount of noise as your household refrigerator, but they are tall, break up sweeping vistas and have lights at night to warn passing aircraft.

Iowa Lakes Community College instructor Al Zeitz shows a student around the top of a turbine.

"Some of the biggest tree-huggers are against it. I don't see why anyone would be against wind power," Von Ohlen said. "Some people, point blank, don't like the looks of the turbine. My wife and I love the look."

Wind is also bringing jobs.

The industry employs about 50,000 Americans, adding 10,000 jobs in 2007 alone, according to the American Wind Energy Association, a trade and lobbying group. By 2030 -- if wind reaches its full potential -- the industry could employ as many as 500,000 people.

The New Work Force

Jake Hansen grew up on a farm in the tiny community of Morgan, Minn., about 50 miles north of Trimont. Roughly 70 percent of the residents there graduate from high school but less than 10 percent hold bachelor's degrees. The typical resident made $16,454 in 1999, according to Census data.

Hansen was home-schooled and "had no idea" what he was going to do until he heard a radio ad for a wind technician program at an area community college.

"I thought it sounded interesting," Hansen said. "Farming or driving a truck are the only jobs around."

But with wind, he said, "there's so much future in it."

Jake Hansen standing on top of one of the turbines.

Now, two years later, Hansen works at the Trimont project earning more than $20 an hour; that's more than $40,000 a year plus overtime and bonuses.

With that salary he just bought his first house, at the age of 20.

Hansen has two other brothers. One is in school for law enforcement and the other works at Wal-Mart. He earns more than both of them.

After graduating from the two-year program at Iowa Lakes Community College, he had 12 job offers. (He also had an internship in between his first and second years at the college, which paid him enough to cover his second year of school.)

"It's just your average 9-to-5 job," Hansen said, "just 280 feet in the air."

Downtown Trimont, Minn.

The college started the wind program in the fall of 2004. Back then, there were only 15 students and one instructor. Today, there are five instructors and more than 100 students. The college recently added another 16 slots for the upcoming school year. They were filled in just six days, according to school president Harold Prior.

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