“I foresee an even greater opportunity for everyone in renewables, and wind energy has a great future if we’re willing to partner with Mother Nature,” said John Steiner, a Southwest Idaho serial entrepreneur, agriculturist, and wind developer.
Steiner is one of the members of Idaho Energy Freedom’s Advisory Council. He ranches and farms in Owyhee County. He says organizations such as Idaho Energy Freedom are needed to educate Idahoans about the economic benefits of clean energy.
“It is a really good cause and purpose because it’s not just with the people, but for the people,” Steiner said. “It’s saying, ‘We’re here and we want to educate people on renewables and wind,’ when no one else is doing it. I admire that.”
John Steiner began his career in the 1970s in agriculture, founding and operating United Irrigation, which specialized in irrigation machine development that was deployed to the U.S., Canada, and the Middle East and developed a number of other agricultural and related ventures during his early career, including the Simply Natural Pie Company and Idaho Waste Systems Regional Landfill.
But, in the early 2000s, he went to Europe, curious about wind energy and whether it could save him money in his farm and ranch operations. And as they say, the rest is history.
“After I saw what the wind energy had developed in those countries, and I was looking at the rising energy costs here, especially in agriculture pumping costs, I began to look into developing wind in the U.S., more pointedly in Idaho,” Steiner said. “I discovered a huge potential as the larger wind turbines had not been utilized here, yet. With that potential in mind, the rising cost of energy and the need for a more clean environment, I began my studies and developed wind projects early in this field of potential.”
Since 2004, Steiner has focused on developing sites for wind-powered electric generation, developing the 129MW Mountain Air wind farm, 43MW Bennett Creek and Hot Springs wind farms in Idaho, as well as the 60 MW Echo wind farm and 59MW Huntington Wind farm in Oregon.
In partnership with North Renew Energy, Steiner leads the effort to identify the most suitable locations for new renewable development projects in Idaho and working landowners to secure them. He also assists NRE with local representation in the permitting process and other community stakeholder relations, as well as with managing physical on-site activities.
“In developing a project, I highly evaluate the resources at hand,” he said. “I make sure there is ample wind, interconnection, the ability to sell the power, the right area preferring a more remote situation so as to not affect the public, and — most of all — the satisfaction of the land owners. They must realize a benefit from the development on their property. I also look at the terrain so as to place wind turbines in a layout design so it won’t impede or take away the ability for the rancher, farmer, and landowner to keep producing and not affect their operation.”
Thanks in large part to his diligence, Steiner said land owners have been happy and deeply satisfied with the large added income from a free crop they have not been utilizing before – wind.
“We try to not affect farming operations based on where we put the wind turbines. We stay away from irrigation and most landowners use a big pivot so we don’t use any of the farm property, so the same amount of land can be farmed,” he said.
Steiner works to ensure the needs of the entire community are met as wind turbines are installed. Clean energy means the roads stay nice so farmers can continue to use them, and if farmers have livestock, Steiner and crew put in gates and fences so they can continue their operation, as well as a security system if there’s a unit on the private land, so farmers aren’t overrun by trespassing people. Wind turbine workers also work with rural fire districts and donate to them because they also have an interest in controlling fires.
“It all relates to the safety of operation and management. We’re really careful with that. We always operate with a certain amount of safety and derisking,” Steiner said.
At the end of the day, for clean energy projects to succeed, they must be mutually beneficial for communities and landowners. For Steiner, the efficiency, suitability, and demand for wind energy in Idaho meets that criteria.