Land Rush in Wyoming for Wind Power brings ranchers together

November 30, 2008

(ChattahBox) — A quiet land rush is under way among the buttes of southeastern Wyoming. The howling winds cursed by descendants of the original homesteaders now have real value for out-of-state developers who dream of wind farms or of selling the rights to bigger companies.

But as developers descend upon the area, drawing comparisons to the oil patch in the movie “There Will Be Blood,” the ranchers of Albany, Converse and Platte Counties are rewriting the old script and it is changing the local rancher culture.

In a departure from the local culture of privacy and self-reliance neighbors, are pooling their wind-rich land and forming Energy Associations.

This allows them to bargain collectively for a better price and ensures that as few as possible succumb to high-pressure tactics or accept low offers. Ranchers share information about the potential value of their wind.

The development of eight Wyoming wind associations (with three more waiting in the wings) and similar groups in Colorado, Montana and New Mexico has not always been a simple matter. While ranchers have always been ready to help their neighbors, they have been less willing to discuss their financial affairs.

That has made it easier for wind developers to make individual deals and insist that the terms be kept secret. The developers’ cause has not been hurt by a 10-year drought’s impact on agricultural families’ finances.

The developers hope to supply Wyoming wind power to markets like California, which intends to have one-third of its power from renewable sources by 2020.

“This is the best wind in North America, we think,” said Ronald Lehr, a representative of the American Wind Energy Association, the developers’ trade group.

Of course, the decline in oil prices and the constraints on the capital markets are most likely to slow the development of wind energy. But for ranchers, the calculations remain the same about whether to deal with developers individually or as a group.


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