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Wind power: Clean energy, dirty business?

In the developing world, where land-intensive wind turbines are being rapidly constructed, wind power has often turned clean energy into dirty business.

(Page 3 of 3)



Monitor reports abuse in India

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In 2010, the Monitor documented a case in Dhule, India, where 2,000 adivasi – or tribesmen – were forced to accept hundreds of wind turbines on their traditional lands. They'd lived on the land for generations but had dubious title. The government gave the land to Suzlon, which, in some cases, bought out owners.

However, ownership doesn't guarantee fair treatment. In Honduras a wind energy company recently forced indigenous Lenca people who did have land title to take on a wind farm, paying each farmer as little as $80 per year to lease the land. In many cases, the owners were barred from their land.

Cases like this, in which landowners are either coerced into a contract or don't understand what they are signing, are beginning to worry indigenous rights activists.

"You are talking about land that is the basis for the existence and survival of cultures – of entire social-culture dynamics that define a people," says Anaya. "You are talking about the cultural survival of these people."

Elsewhere, it's not clear what effect the wind boom is having on civil rights. China has doubled production capacity in each of the past five years. It has a history of driving people from land for hydropower, but wind experts say China's grip on information makes it hard to know if the same goes for wind projects.

Asked about the conflicts cited here, Shukla says her industry organization is unaware of any wind development projects that have caused poor landowners any strife.

As the wind boom continues, indigenous ownership is a key issue.

Taking wind into their own hands

In the Great Plains of the United States, many native American communities have joined a movement to direct all development on their lands.

"The tribes were no longer satisfied with business as usual ... other people coming in, building some economic development project, owning it, taking the profits out, and leaving the tribe with it at the end of its life," says Robert Gough, a consultant with the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy, which represents 10 Great Plains tribes.

Many tribal communities there say they pay high electricity costs or have no electricity at all. So the council decided no wind farms will be built on tribal land unless the tribe has controlling interest.

Mr. Gough says the tribes have struggled to find partners because of these demands and because federal investment incentives are designed for businesses, not municipalities or reservations.

But communal bargaining is catching on. In southern Wyoming, 2,000 owners have pooled 2 million acres in "wind associations."

Many countries are trying to start domestic wind industries. For example, 15 years ago, foreigners built China's turbines; now Chinese corporations do it.

"At the end of the day, developing countries are energy deficient. And they do need power," says Shukla. "You want to be able to give them energy that is cleaner than what we have been providing across the world."

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