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25th Anniversary Special - The History of the Magazine - Growing Together

It started with a classical Danish thatched roof farmhouse. Much of its exceptional charm came from its spectacular location, on a peninsula in western Denmark. Torgny Muller and his wife bought the farmhouse in 1976 but with no insulation, and high heating costs, they searched for a practical solution. Muller had his eye on an electricity-generating windmill and once Muller had permission to attach it to the public electricity network - he was the first private individual anywhere to win that battle - the electricity that the wind turbine fed into the grid was enough to cover all the family's needs.

Nancy Graham Holm charts the rise of a turbine owner's magazine that became so much more as a fledgling industry took shape.

It started with a house, a classical Danish thatched roof farmhouse with half-timbered walls and small windows. Much of its exceptional charm came from its utterly spectacular location, on a peninsula in western Denmark, surrounded on three sides by sea. There was a stunning view and - oh, yes - plenty of wind.

Torgny Moller and his wife bought the farmhouse in 1976 and moved in with their children. With no insulation, and high heating costs, they searched for a practical solution. At the time, there were about 50 household windmills in Denmark providing heat, not electricity, owned by local co-operatives and individuals. But Moller had his eye on an electricity-generating windmill designed by Danish wind turbine pioneer Christian Rissager. Its generating capacity was only 22 kW, but once Moller had permission to attach it to the public electricity network - he was the first private individual anywhere to win that battle - the electricity that the wind turbine fed into the grid was enough to cover all the family's needs.

Six months after Moller's turbine was connected to the grid, he and 11 others met around his dining table and formed the Danish Windmill Association.

Two years later, the farmhouse was expanded to accommodate another family, and the turbine was upgraded to 30 kW. Since then, they have upgraded a few times, and now the grandchildren run around the garden, dodging the shadows of the blades of a 600 kW turbine.

 

The part that passion plays

Had Torgny Moller been less passionate or committed, he might never have formed a wind turbine owner's organisation. Had he been a dentist or engineer, he might never have written about it. But Moller was a journalist, and the farmhouse on Mols peninsula ended up playing an important part in wind energy communication.

Moller set up shop in his cosy farmhouse and started a membership newsletter that rapidly evolved into Naturlig Energi (Natural Energy), a magazine that is still going strong today. By the early 1980s it was apparent that investors in wind turbines outside Denmark also wanted to know what Moller was telling his readers. One subscriber in America suggested that Moller publish the magazine in English. He liked the idea, but needed help.

Bill Canter, an American who had moved to Denmark with his Danish wife, knew a lot about earth sciences and absolutely nothing about journalism. Moller talked him into working on the magazine and the first issue of Windpower Monthly appeared in January 1985.

"I didn't have the slightest idea what I was doing," Canter says of his early days on the magazine. "I figured I'd stick around until we found a more suitable person."

 

A suitable person

Canter soon found who he was looking for through a friend of a friend who rode horses with her on Mol. It was not immediately apparent to British journalist Lyn Harrison that working on a magazine devoted to wind energy was what she wanted to do, but she agreed to a meeting. "I did some checking and found that Torgny Moller was well established. I expected to meet an old man, planned to hear him out, and then say no. I had a young son and no intention of working hard at anything."

Moller was not an old man but a wunderkind of sorts, a writer for a left-wing intellectual newspaper, who had won the distinguished Cavling Prize - the "Danish Pulizer" - at the age of 27. Lyn was impressed.

"He wasn't a crazy wind energy advocate but a journalist. His ideas about journalistic truth were the same as mine and I saw right away that working with him would be a positive experience," she remembers.

Harrison agreed to work on Windpower Monthly on one condition - that she had total and unregulated editorial control. And, although she knew nothing about wind technology, Moller agreed. She impressed him with her energy and intelligence, he says. He felt confident he could teach her as they went on to teach others.

Harrison felt the same: "I knew I could learn what I needed to know sitting beside Torgny." In January 1986, following three-months improving her Danish and learning about wind, she became editor, a title that she still holds. Her son is now grown up, and what started as an interesting job is now an identity. "Lyn Harrison is Windpower Monthly," says one magazine consultant.

Moller and Harrison set out to be independent, to follow developments of the wind industry and always tell the truth. "Sharing negative information was performing a valuable service to the fledgling industry," says Harrison. "Everyone would ultimately benefit from the truth."

Journalistic integrity cost the magazine precious revenue, as Bill Canter, who eventually became US advertising manager, discovered. The German company Enercon boycotted the magazine in 1987 after it reported that its coastal wind turbines were suffering the effects of the local saline climate. "We wanted to write all the news - not just good news," says Canter, "So, we had to live with it."

In April 1992, a policeman arrived at the farmhouse to serve Moller with a subpoena. The magazine had written a critical article about Danish turbine manufacturer United Energy, and the company was trying to get an injunction to shut it down. Knowing that United Energy owed them advertisement fees, Moller filed a countersuit. Two months later, United Energy was out of business.

United Energy was far from the only company to see its dreams shattered - the early years of wind power were a time of experimental technology, and Windpower Monthly documented as many failures as successes.

In 1996 American Kenetech Windpower, at the time the world's largest wind turbine maker, filed for bankruptcy. According to its executives, Windpower Monthly's critical articles had caused Kenetech to lose business, and they held the magazine accountable. "The crux came," says Harrison, "when we published a photo of a failed Kenetech turbine with three broken blades, each of them folded over a few feet from the root."

Harrison was called to San Francisco for a dressing down by the executives. "They pointed out that a big power company was buying Kenetech turbines and why would it do that if the technology and the company were suspect. I quietly answered that maybe, just maybe the company didn't quite know what it was doing. I was cheeky, but history proved me right."

Courting contention, the February 1994 issue appeared with a cover showing a man holding the carcass of a griffon vulture. Harrison knew this would cause ructions in the industry, but argued the magazine's decision to go large on the news story titled 'Bird deaths prompt rethink on wind farms in Spain,' saying that it was a problem that needed to be dealt with, and that environmentalists who support wind power were depending on the industry to solve the problem. "Their trust in the wind industry is vital. Breaking it would be tantamount to signing wind energy's death warrant" Harrison wrote at the time. And today, she stands by that decision: "Of course it made enemies but it was the right thing to do."

 

A reputation was built

Looking back over 25 years, the founders are proud of their track record for leading opinion and not just reflecting it. "As we educated ourselves and learned more about wind energy, we passed it on to our readers - who then passed it on to politicians," Harrison says. "One of our best contributions was the 2006 campaign to uncover the hype concerning hydrogen as a revolutionary clean source of energy. Nonsense was being written about it and we took on the challenge to set the record straight."

Harrison's editorial was one of the first times that anyone had publicly questioned in documented detail the widespread acceptance that hydrogen, not renewables, was the answer to energy without pollution. The articles received widespread attention and were quoted in other media for months. Harrison believes that what was written in the magazine affected global decisions.

 

Seeing sense in wind

Though Windpower Monthly never acted like a trade journal, it did become a wind energy advocate. Moller was always a 'wind person' but Harrison still claims not to be particularly green. "But I am absolutely sensible," she says. It was when a renewable energy analyst in the electricity sector joined the team that she saw the potential. David Milborrow is a wind scientist, not a lobbyist, and he showed Harrison how wind energy was more cost effective than the alternatives. "His analysis was confirmed in many conversations. I wasn't passionate about an ideology, but I can be passionate about economic sense."

Carl Tishler, who had read Windpower Monthly while working as an investment banker for renewable energies, is another of Harrison's mentors. He felt that it needed a big business perspective, and offered to write for it. "I told her the world was changing and it was time for her magazine to grow up," he says.

Tishler's first article, in 2003, describes the new era of energy economics, where the previous year has seen ten significant mergers and acquisitions and the new wind turbine customers were likely to be major energy companies, not visionary entrepreneurs. "As the sector gets bigger, it is clearly also getting smaller," he wrote.

 

Getting big on business

Tishler was instrumental in expanding the regular Windicator section in the magazine to include share price movements in the sector from the April 2003 issue.

"Carl Tishler added a new dimension to the magazine and played a major role in making it what it is today," Harrison says. "Wind energy is complex, it requires careful and responsible journalism. When it is not explained well, the anti-wind people gain authority."

With no hidden allegiances and no economic ties, Windpower Monthly has spent 25 years reporting technology flops and development errors as well as bureaucratic incompetence and government failings. It has highlighted wind energy's potential for doing environmental good, and its controversial impact on bird habitats and the countryside. It has scolded politicians for being short-sighted and praised them for being visionary - helping to scupper bad legislation and to promote good policy.

Lyn Harrison has needed a thick skin to weather negative reactions over the years. "I think she was unfair during the 1980s about the United States," one subscriber says. "She didn't give American manufacturers the credit we deserved." Another calls Harrison an arrogant pest, with "a tendency to be a muckraker," a name for investigative journalists who expose corruption and scandal. "Sometimes, it's not what the industry needs."

Her foreign correspondents are more appreciative. She is as tirelessly patient as she is doggedly demanding, say more than one. "I know I can always go to her with any question and she'll give me a good answer."

Harrison has never regretted her editorial stance. "I've made enemies, but I know that most enemies eventually become friends." Is this true? "She's a formidable opponent," says a former enemy, "but I do respect her."

 

And to the future

Today, the 100 GW wind capacity milestone has passed - years ahead of predictions - and the cottage industry that Windpower Monthly first reported on is corporate. Yet Moller and Harrison believe that transparent and independent reporting is just as important, as competitive pressures to hide discoveries and failures risk slowing development and stifling the critical process of solving fundamental technological failings.

But, as they hand over to new owners, Harrison, Moller and Canter can take pride in the part that they and the magazine played in reporting the early years. "Never has the industry been in better health and its potential so widely understood," Harrison says.

- Nancy Graham Holm is a TV journalist, environmental reporter, and former editorial director of CBS affiliate KPIX.

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