What a '70s farmers uprising can teach U.S. as it prepares to spend billions on clean energy

A far-off falcon perched on a power line with a tree in front.
A peregrine falcon perches on the top of powerline near the Mississippi river in Elk River, Minn., in October 2019.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2019 file

In 1978, former MPR News reporter Greg Barron started an hourlong special report like this:

"Power on the Line: The Smoldering Conflict," Sept. 14, 1978
by Greg Barron

“The once quiet fields of west-central Minnesota have become a battleground and a war fought with rocks, wrenches, rifles and words.”

He’s talking about a yearslong standoff between Minnesota farmers and Great River Energy — then called the Cooperative Power Association — over the construction of a transmission line that would bring energy from North Dakota to the Twin Cities.

“While there's been occasional violence, this war hasn't cost any lives yet. But the potential is there,” Barron continues. “It's made of the same thing all wars are made of: pride, fear, political and social ideals, and a huge financial investment.”

Much of that recipe is present today, as the United States prepares to spend billions on clean energy infrastructure. And it's why Inside Climate News reporter Dan Gearino recently spent time with people involved in those 1970s protests. He wanted to know how to prevent a repeat of the past.

Gearino shared what he learned with Climate Cast this week. Click play on the audio player at the top of the page or subscribe to the Climate Cast podcast to hear more.

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