The Global Wind Day “wind energy stories” series continues as photographer and wind power enthusiast Robert van Waarden travels to Flevoland to meet Stephan and Ralph de Clerck who successfully combine wind power and farming.
Cycling along the country roads of Flevoland, you can’t help but notice the wind. If you’re lucky, it is behind you, if it isn’t… well, good luck. It is no wonder that wind turbines haphazardly dot the landscape. They fit. This is the Netherlands, a country where wooden windmills have dotted the landscape for hundreds of years. Now instead of pumping water, modern wind turbines are now powering thousands of homes.
Stephan de Clerck and his brother Ralph live within a few kilometres of each other in Flevoland and they are no strangers to the wind. They have been harvesting wind energy for 11 years. In the beginning they were looking for ways to diversify their farms and incomes. They love how wind energy perfectly complements their other crops of potatoes, onions, and sugar beets. Once installed, the windmills turn steadily in the background, while the day-to-day life of a farmer continues. For them, wind energy is a valuable crop, and one that gets better the stormier the weather.
Together, Stephan and Ralph produce enough wind energy to power 5000 homes. Their energy is sold through WindUnie, a co-operative that sources and sells wind power to residents of the Netherlands. Twelve years ago, WindUnie was a small start-up, but through the engagement of landowners like Stephan and Ralph, this co-operative has grown to be a major player in the wind energy market in the Netherlands. Connecting residential customers with small-scale producers, the WindUnie website allows you to explore the suppliers of wind energy, meet their families and see where your wind is coming from. In the case of Stephan and Ralph, you find out that they have three and four children respectively and love skiing and walking on their holidays.
Stephan was very happy with the first set of wind turbines, so much so that he wanted to build more. But, by then, the zoning laws had changed and regulations were now requiring a minimum of six wind turbines to be built in a line rather than individually. Stephan realised that he couldn’t do it on his own. He knocked on the doors of his neighbours and together the five of them launched Samen voor de Wind, (Together for the Wind), a co-operative wind farm of seven turbines.
Samen voor de Wind has substantially contributed to the financial well-being and health of the families. All the members have young families and they are naturally happy to have the extra income. Furthermore, the co-operative has built a stronger community between the neighbours.
Stephan believes that for renewable energy to succeed, we desperately need to level the subsidy playing field. With the removal of fossil and nuclear fuel subsidies, the market would take over and clean energy would rise to top.
“In the future, instead of all of us being energy users, we will all become energy producers,” says Stephan.
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