Thirty nine-foot-tall windmills today are spinning a big welcome message for John McCain and Barack Obama on the campus of Ole Miss for tonight’s first presidential debate. Power Vote — a nonpartisan youth voter campaign — erected the windmill "political art installation" to whip-up support for clean energy as an issue in the 2008 election.

Ole Miss windmills

“Our landscape ought to be dotted with wind turbines and solar installations instead of coal and nuclear facilities,” said Jessy Tolkan, director of the Energy Action Coalition’s Power Vote campaign. “These windmills are a monument to the clean and just energy future that youth deserve and demand.”

The windmill installation is part of Power Vote’s larger campaign to mobilize 1 million young "climate voters" in the 2008 election. The windmills will criss-cross the country for 22 days, hoping to set up shop outside each of the three presidential debate sites (and the single VP debate location). "The administration at Ole Miss has been great. They’ve let the students set up the windmills however they want," said Brianna Cayo Cotter, communications director for Energy Action Coalition, "But in [Washington University] St. Louis for the next debate, the administration has locked-down. They originally told the students they could put up the windmills, but now they said they can’t, so the students are putting them on wheels so they can move them about campus!"

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In a bit of energy irony, Power Vote’s debate tour almost didn’t kick-off on time due to the gas shortages crippling the Southeast. Power Vote parterned with artist and activist Matt Wallace of Asheville, N.C. — off closed-college fame — to build the windmills. When their donated biodiesel bus broke down in Asheville, they rented U-Hauls to cart the windmills to Ole Miss.

"Everything was stopped in Asheville," said Cotter. "We couldn’t get gas for the U-Hauls, but it just emphasizes the problem that we are facing with fossil fuels. The irony of the situation gets me though, driving windmills around in U-Hauls. But it’s just more reason to do the project because the fuel shortages were caused by the hurricane that are more severe because of climate change. It’s all connected."

Back at the Ole Miss windfarm, Cotter estimated that PowerVote had collected at least 250 more pledges from "Democrats, Republicans, everybody" on the morning of the presidential debate. Nationwide, about 200,000 college students and young voters have signed Power Vote’s pledge to be a climate voter come November.

Empowered to vote climate? Check out Grist’s interview with Jessy Tolkan and Brianna Cayo Cotter from the Democratic National Convention:

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