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In ‘Gust,’ Milwaukee’s little wind turbine comes to life

an illustration shows a wind turbine's perspective looking out on the busy port
Katie Meyer
An illustration from the book shows Gust looking out over the busy Port. "I just started researching the wind turbine, asking questions, and thinking about what a view it got, what it would see of the city and the port and the Great Lake," Meyer said. "And what he might think and do, standing over it all."

The hero of the children's book is the lakeside wind turbine that single-handedly powers Port Milwaukee’s administration building.

Take a drive on the Hoan Bridge and you can’t miss it: the small, lone wind turbine on the south end of the bridge, right by Lake Michigan. When she first moved to Milwaukee five years ago, Katie Meyer noticed it too. She couldn’t get this little turbine out of her head. She named him “Gust.” His full name? Gust E. Day.

Meyer, an author and educator, told me about how her fixation on the wind turbine began and how it became Gust the book. The book is illustrated by MIAD alum Brigid Malloy.

The interview below has been edited for length and clarity. 

Where did this book begin for you? 

a white woman with sunglasses and long brown hair holds a book titled GUST
Katie Meyer
Gust author Katie Meyer at Harbor Fest.

The wind turbine is unavoidable. I would take my dog for walks by the lake, when I went to the farmers market or beer garden at South Shore, even on my commute to work over the Hoan Bridge. It was everywhere.

The wind turbine stands alone. It's not in a wind farm like most wind turbines that I've experienced. And it is smaller than any wind turbine I've seen previously. In fact, it's less than half the size of most average wind turbines. It really stood out to me as part of our Milwaukee skyline.

And no one was talking about it. I thought it deserved as much attention as our Hoan Bridge or clock tower or the Milwaukee Art Museum, and all these other great features that I was learning about in my new city.

COVID hit very soon after we moved into our new home. There was a lot I couldn't do to explore and get to know Milwaukee or meet people. Maybe I can blame COVID isolation for why I named a wind turbine and started talking to it.

But fortunately for me, I had one friend in the city who actually just became the new port director at Port Milwaukee. I learned that the wind turbine stood on Port Milwaukee grounds. So I had at least one other person who felt as passionately about this wind turbine as I was beginning to feel. I just really wanted to tell its story.

So you had these questions about this wind turbine. Did you just happen to ask your friend? How did you make that connection?

I think I was starting to talk about it. I got curious, asked questions.

The book was always from the wind turbine’s perspective, in my mind. I just started thinking about what a view it got, what it would see of the city and the port and the Great Lake, and what he might think and do standing over it all. As I learned, I was amazed at how much the wind turbine did for the Port and our city.

I'm an educator, so I always think about children's literacy. I started to research books that already exist and learned that there are very few fictional books or stories about wind turbines, especially for younger children. And none that I've been able to find that have a wind turbine as an anthropomorphized character, especially the main character.

And the timing was right. Climate conversations are happening right at the dinner table. We're all experiencing massive and often dangerous impacts on our world. It felt urgent and important to share. I thought Gust could be a child-friendly introduction to wind energy and an entry point for parents and educators to talk to kids about renewable energy sources, starting with our very own success story.

a white wind turbine stands above a cream colored building on an autumn day
Lina Tran
The wind turbine that inspired Gust powers the Port Milwaukee administration building.

Absolutely. You mentioned Gust is doing so much for the Port. What is the role that this turbine plays in Port Milwaukee?

The City of Milwaukee's Environmental Collaboration Office, or ECO Office, and Port Milwaukee installed our wind turbine in 2012. So Gust turned 11 this year! That wind turbine is 100 kilowatts and 154 feet tall, which is about half the height of most average wind turbines. But it has already far exceeded the initial estimates in clean energy production and savings for our city.

It provides the Port's headquarters building with over 100% of its electricity, making it the first Milwaukee city building to be a net-zero electric energy user. Not only does it power the Port's headquarters building, but it actually produces enough wind energy to sell some back to the city's power grid. It can power up to 18 average Wisconsin homes a year.

So it has both an environmental and an economic benefit. The savings on the city's electric bill since the installation has been about $200,000 [over] the last 10 years. It actually creates about $8,000 in revenue for the city per year on average.

An illustration shows a happy wind turbine in front of the Milwaukee skyline.
Katie Meyer
An illustration from Gust shows a happy wind turbine.

You’ve taught kids with so many books, as a teacher and educator. I’m sure you have your own ideas about what makes a really wonderful book for kids. What did you want to bring to life in your own book? 

I really wanted it to be engaging. I wanted it to be something that kids would be interested in returning to. I've loved the stories that I've gotten from families, parents, classrooms. Even when they're like, “My kid keeps asking to read your book over and over!” I'm like, "Uh, sorry?"

I wanted [it] to be something that really spoke to kids. Whether it was the lesson knowing that we all have different jobs to do, different skills, identities, perspectives. And that bringing that all together and working together helps our community run. Even the smallest people, wind turbines, actions can have a really big impact.

But I also wanted them to have some curiosity about the world around them and learn [about] new things like the port. I wanted them to look at the world differently, as well as have some questions about the world around them.

Meyer will read ‘Gust’ at Milwaukee Public Library’s Bay View branch on Tuesday, Nov. 14 at 4 p.m.


Lina is a WUWM news reporter.
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