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Is Toledo “tilting at windmills?”

December 8, 2010
Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

A road trip through various parts of Iowa demonstrates to the traveler that wind power is being adopted as a viable alternative to traditional electric generation. In an age when oil profits fuel foreign wars and prices gouge at the budgets of our citizenry, alternative means of generating the power our homes and businesses need is a smart move.

Iowa is second in the nation, behind Texas, in the generation of wind power. Recent reports claim 15% of the electricity used by Iowan’s is generated by wind power. 

There are four reasons Iowa has become a leader in wind power generation. Because Iowa is relatively flat, building wind farms is easier from an engineering standpoint.  Iowa is also a windy state.  Iowa sits close to the grid feeding several large cities, including Chicago. Another larger reason Iowa has become a leader in wind power generation is because of non-restrictive regulations and numerous tax break incentives.

Iowa began promoting renewable energy sources as early as 1978 in response to staggering increases in oil prices. The state passed a property tax exemption for wind, solar and other types of generators whose electricity was used on site. 

In 1983 Iowa became the first state to adopt a renewable energy mandate requiring that its investor owned utilities generate 105 megawatts by renewable methods by 1990. Iowa now has in excess of 3,000 megawatts of wind generated power pulsing through the grid.

While Iowa has postured to become a leader in wind power, one local government, the City of Toledo, recently passed a very restrictive resolution effectively banning wind generators in the city limits. In light of state and federal mandates, don’t restrictive local ordinances seem out of step? Maybe there is hope the state will adopt a code for Iowa to save certain local governments from themselves.

Your weekly columnist sometimes calls on classical literature to make certain points regarding current affairs. One classic book, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, is one of the most read books ever, and has some valuable lessons for us across time.

Don Quixote is a character Cervantes created in the early 17th century. A masterpiece, the novel is a humorous and paradoxical take on chivalric literature. With his sidekick Sancho Panza, Don embarks on a mission to save an imaginary character, Dulcinea del Toboso. The demented Don, descends to the depths of madness, and is convinced he is an errant knight.  He is determined to fight injustice through chivalry.

Don Quixote’s good intentions do only harm to those he meets, since he is largely unable to see the world as it really is.

Don Quixote longs for a sense of purpose and beauty; two things he believes the world lacks. Don hopes to bring order to a disorderly world by reinstating the chivalric code of the knights-errant.

A cliché derived from Cervantes’ book is the term “tilting at windmills.” Describing an act of futility, it refers to Don facing forty windmills on a hill, which he imagines to be giants, with the sails of the windmills being giant arms. He is determined to slay these giants. I should add, “tilting” is jousting.

Just then they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that rise from that plain. And no sooner did Don Quixote see them that he said to his squire, "Fortune is guiding our affairs better than we ourselves could have wished. Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them.With their spoils we shall begin to be rich for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless."

I see Don Quixote’s character as a warning that even the most intelligent and otherwise practically minded person can fall victim to their own foolishness. Furthermore, we should see Don Quixote’s adventures as a warning that any outmoded set of values can have negative ramifications.

Despite his delusions, Don Quixote is fiercely intelligent and, at times, seemingly sane. He clearly and concisely talks about literature, the military, and government.

While reading the book, it is hard to explain the divide between his sanity and his madness. Although you may come to like Don, it is hard to identify with him, or sympathize with his plight.

We may think Don is coy and really does know what is going on around him while ignoring the world and consequences of his regularly disastrous actions.

The author hints that Don Quixote may know more than he admits several times in the novel. At the end of the book, when Don Quixote suddenly declares himself sane, the reader is left to wonder how he managed to shake off his madness so quickly, and if he had at least partly feigned his lunacy.

 I am hoping the Toledo City Council will see that “tilting at windmills” is folly, and modify their resolution to allow properly regulated wind generators in the city. Any intelligent person knows some regulation is in order, but don’t act like the city is your private fiefdom with an imaginary wall around it. Progressive thought for a progressive community should be the norm.

On December 13, 2010, at 7:00 pm, the first public hearing regarding this resolution will be held at Toledo City Hall.  If you are in favor of having the right to erect your own wind generator in the City of Toledo, attend and show your support.  If you’re for an outright ban, like your city government appears to be supporting, then show up to shore up the resolution.

Until next time—

Did you know you can read this column and many from the past on the Internet? Go to and click on the Local Columns button at the bottom of the page.

In to the Wind and this column are copyright 2010 Mike Gilchrist. Readers, feel free to contact me at via email, or write to me at P.O. Box 255, Toledo, IA 52342.

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