Are the 'Winds of Change' Coming to Iran?

A wind farm in Iran, located between the cities of Nishapur and Mashhad. (Photo: Ninara/Flickr)

It is a little known fact that Iran, a country which according to the US Energy Information Administration has the 3rd largest oil reserve and the 2nd largest natural gas reserve in the world, is actively pursuing renewable energy sources. Blessed with some of the best wind and solar resources in the Middle East, Iran hopes to gain economic and political leverage by harnessing these natural resources while preserving their fossil fuel commodities for future export. It's a win-win for everyone. Iran can power its own development without the highly troubling political implications of an expanded nuclear program, and it gets to maintain its strategic oil reserves.

But there is a problem. US and EU sanctions prevent technology companies from making any investments in Iran whatsoever, even investments which would support the decommissioning of its nuclear program by providing viable and quick-to-market alternatives. Fines are heavy -- upwards of 1 million dollars. The Danish wind power company Vestas was recently forced to pull out of a 15 year contract with Iranian wind farm Saba Niroo, due to heavy political pressures.

As Nader Niktabe, director of Saba Niroo said, "It's ironic that the West is so vehemently opposed to Iran's efforts to develop nuclear energy (while) it is sabotaging our efforts to develop clean energy sources like wind." The Saba Niroo wind project is now dead, with 50 huge, 70 foot long wind blades lying idle in its warehouse yard. The company may go bankrupt in six months if it is unable to complete and sell the wind turbines.

One group of U.S. activists is hoping to help bring the "Winds of Change" to Iran and the Middle East, by urging Congress to selectively lift the ban for Iranian companies that would promote renewable energy -- wind and solar. I recently heard a talk by Jodie Evans and Medea Benjamin, co-founders of the organization Code Pink, who led a citizen diplomacy mission to Iran focusing on women's rights.

The group met covertly with several activist organizations in Iran, as well as with appointed Iranian leaders. They learned that despite an extremely unpopular government (President Ahmadinejad is considered by most educated Iranians to be a "joke") Iranians are passionate about their country becoming more modern and having sustained peaceful relations with the western world.

A private company called Winds of Change was formed this month. It will allow individuals to fund the wind project in Iran at $5 per share. The goal is to raise interim capital to keep the hope of safe and affordable wind energy alive in Iran, while at the same time urging president-elect Obama to lift the ban on renewable investments in the troubled nation.