I had a chance to catch up with USDA Senior Energy Advisor Sarah Bittleman at the 2011 Agricultural Outlook Forum on February 25. She talked about USDA’s efforts to help farmers and ranchers lower their electricity costs with renewable energy and the role AWEA is playing in increasing access to wind power across America. But she also spoke about how growing up on a farm in Upstate New York shaped the way she thinks about self-sustaining rural communities and renewable energy.
Bittleman was from one of the only Jewish families in her area, but that didn’t stop her family from using their land to start a thriving Christmas tree business. When she wasn’t helping sell Christmas trees, she was chopping wood for the family’s furnace, something she said gave her “a real feeling” for renewable energy “based in blisters.”
Bittleman believes USDA’s role is to create economic opportunity in rural America, and the continued development of renewable energy is a big part of that mission.
One example of USDA’s commitment to renewable energy came earlier this month, when Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced support for the PrairieWinds wind farm energy project, a public-private investment partnership that will involve the construction of over 100 wind turbines in central South Dakota. The project will be undertaken by Basin Electric Power Cooperative, which upon completion will have more than 700 megawatts of wind generation in its portfolio.
Bittleman and Vilsack recognize that these types of projects create jobs, generate increased income, improve reliability, make electricity costs more predictable and help meet rising consumer demand in rural parts of the country.
Andrew Seifter is a Washington, D.C.-based writer and researcher working for AWEA.