Sit down at either of the two restaurants in Everly, Iowa, and it’s inevitable: you know someone—if not everyone—there. Population 560, and all of them give a friendly head nod when you cross paths on the road. It’s just that kind of town.
But one weekend a year, the population spikes as neighboring communities come in for the long-awaited Everly Days Festival. A 5K race in the morning, then a tantalizing array of desserts baked and donated by the church, horseshoes, a dunk tank, a parade of children and dogs—it’s small-town USA in all its glory.
And this year, there’s a new attraction, one unexpected for a community festival: a 150-foot wind turbine blade spanning an entire block of North Main Street.
It’s not just the blade that’s new; there’s a fresh sense of excitement and anticipation in Everly as construction begins on the Upland Prairie Wind farm.
A middle-aged couple poses in front of the shining white blade, smiling for a camera. The truck driver opens the door of the bright red cab for a five-year old boy, who bounces up onto the driver’s seat.
Proud of Our Past. Faith in Our Future.
Driving into town for the Everly Days Festival, you pass a wooden sign with bold stenciled lettering. Just below the booming text Welcome to Everly reads the town’s slogan: Proud of Our Past. Faith in Our Future.
“It’s exciting to see all the activity in town, with so many workers and all the construction going on,” says Bud Meyer, who retired from his role as Everly’s mayor a couple years ago. “It’s an economic development boom, both for the town and the county. It’s great for the community.”
“Now our little town is exciting,” adds Arlene Meyer, Bud’s wife.
“We’ve experienced overwhelmingly positive support from the community, and Apex did a lot of the work early on to build those relationships, partnering and working together made for a really smooth transition from Apex to Alliant Energy.”
For the Meyers, the project is a long time coming considering the area’s bountiful resource.
“Tilling or plowing, you’d come in from the fields covered head to toe. Your eyeballs were the only thing that wasn’t coated in dirt,” says Arlene. “When I heard Apex was coming into town to talk about building a wind farm, I thought, finally—we’re going to use some of this wind.”
In farming communities like Clay County, Upland Prairie is (almost) like striking gold.
“The wind farm is an added income to agriculture. Farming is a very volatile occupation, and the wind turbines will take a little bit of that financial pressure off,” says Bud. “Beyond that, the tax dollars the project will generate for the county is significant. We need all the tax dollars we can get in small communities.”
“You have revenue flowing into the community not only through the property taxes, but also through landowner payments,” says Brenna Gunderson, director of project development for Apex Clean Energy, which developed Upland Prairie Wind. “That money is then spent in the community and helps local businesses grow.”
In Everly, the impact is already tangible. On Main Street, the Ranch, one of the town’s two restaurants, has expanded service to include breakfast and lunch hours. Rental properties have been scooped up, and the local RV park is filled to capacity.
“You have an opportunity here, maybe a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says Bud. “Don’t let it slip away. It’s too good not to take advantage of.”
“With wind, families can plan for the future of their farms with certainty, residents have more money to spend at local businesses, and schools invest in technology and teachers,” says Mark Goodwin, Apex president and CEO. “Wind farms bring the new energy economy to communities, all while helping transition our nation to clean energy.”
Setting a Strong Foundation for Decades to Come
From a project’s inception, wind development is about partnership.
Of course, becoming a community partner is easier said than done. But between house calls, neighborhood events, office hours, open houses, and presentations by industry experts coined “Conversations on Wind,” Apex’s rented office space on Main Street quickly became a go-to gathering place, and Gunderson’s became another familiar face around town.
“We had our regulars that came into the office every day just to chat, sip on coffee, or enjoy a donut,” Gunderson says. “Depending on the week, there’s a trip down to one farm or another because a calf was born or a lamb needs bottle-feeding.”
Professional relationships blur into personal, all built on trust and transparency—values shared by a third partner, Alliant Energy, which purchased Upland Prairie Wind from Apex in 2017.
“When I heard Apex was coming into town to talk about building a wind farm, I thought, finally—we’re going to use some of this wind.”
“These wind turbines are going to be in service for 40 years. We want to ensure that the landowners feel good about the activities that are going on, and that all of our work with Apex is very visible and transparent to them,” says Matthew Cole, Alliant Energy’s director of operations for the north region. “That tells a story about how we value relationships and what we stand for as a company.”
Alliant Energy serves electricity to much of the area, and from its perspective, there’s an enormous upside to wind energy: it has zero fuel costs, therefore helping manage customers’ energy bills across the board. And the community that hosts the wind farm sees significant economic development throughout the life of the project.
“We’ve experienced overwhelmingly positive support from the community, and Apex did a lot of the work early on to build those relationships,” says Cole. “Partnering and working together in that relationship-oriented approach, getting out and meeting people, and understanding what was important to the community made for a really smooth transition from Apex to Alliant Energy.”
For Alliant Energy, the Meyers and other project advocates are no longer just Upland Prairie supporters—they’re also satisfied customers.
“Apex supported our school and different functions that went on in town with donations and such,” says Bud, a frequent office visitor. “And Alliant Energy has picked right up and continued to support the community.”
The people of Clay County have always had faith in their future—and now more than ever, their future is very clear and very bright alongside Upland Prairie, a project made possible by partnerships.