The man who came to Elsie Bacon’s ranch house door in July asked the 71-year-old widow to grant access to a right of way across the dry hills and short grasses of her land here. Ms. Bacon remembered his insistence on a quick, secret deal.
The man, a representative of the Little Rose Wind Farm of Boulder,
Colo., sought an easement for a transmission line to carry his
company’s wind-generated electricity to market. His offer: a fraction
of the value of similar deals in the area. As Ms. Bacon, 71, recalled
it: “He said, ‘You sure I can’t write you out a check?’ He was really
A quiet land rush is under way among the buttes of
southeastern Wyoming, and it is changing the local rancher culture. The
whipping 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 “land men”
in the movie “There Will Be Blood,” the ranchers of Albany, Converse
and Platte Counties are rewriting the old script.
Ms. Bacon did
not agree to the deal from the Little Rose representative, Ed Ahlstrand
Jr. Instead, she joined her neighbors in forming the Bordeaux Wind
Energy Association — among the new cooperative associations whose
members, in a departure from the local culture of privacy and
self-reliance, are pooling their wind-rich land.
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.
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.
Gregor Goertz heads
the Slater Wind Energy Association, one of the oldest although less
than two years old, formed by dozens of independent-minded men and
women. “Maybe they wouldn’t talk to each other often about other
issues,” he said, “but here they could see a common goal.”
Goertz added that, of the 45 or more landowners who came to his first
meeting, just one declined to join. The group’s land holdings, which
total about 30,000 acres, are centered on a row of buttes where the
wind routinely blows at 25 miles per hour.
Mr. Goertz said that
because of the changes a forest of turbines would make in the serrated,
far-flung vistas here, “everybody in the community is going to be
affected.” The association, he said, would “assure that everybody will
have some income whether they have a turbine placed on their property
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.
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.
Bob Grant, 82, a rancher
who sleeps in the bed his Scottish grandfather brought across the ocean
and the prairie a century ago, has never liked the wind here. Mr. Grant
has seen it hurl gravel off ridges and into a friend’s face like
He said he warmed to the idea of wind associations after long, individual negotiations with enXco, a French-owned developer.
In early 2007, the centerpiece of the price discussed was a per-acre
payment of about $2.50, Mr. Grant and an enXco representative said.
Discussions broke off, then resumed a year later; the suggested price
per acre has nearly doubled.
The doubling of the offer made Mr. Grant and his sons wonder how they could assess, and trust, any offer, they said.
Probst, a representative of enXco, said the first offer had not been an
effort to drive a hard bargain. It was, Mr. Probst said, a realistic
appraisal, given the difficulties of transporting wind power to market
when there was little transmission capacity to spare.
2007 to late 2008, he said, the potential marketability of wind power
in southeastern Wyoming was enhanced as plans for construction of the
Wyoming-Colorado Intertie, a privately financed transmission line,
became firmer and Xcel Energy showed an interest in buying the
“There’s a better chance that there’s a
market for the power, and a way to get the power to market, than there
was 18 months or two years ago,” Mr. Probst said. “So we’re definitely
willing to pay more at this point.”
But the experience made the
Grant family look harder at the possibility of joining their lands with
those of their neighbors in a new group, the Bordeaux Wind Energy
Association, which sent its incorporation papers to the state just
The godfather of such associations is a
federal official, Grant Stumbough, whose work for the Resource
Conservation and Development office of the Agriculture Department was
focused on ways to keep ranchers on the land. Revenue from wind farms,
he believed, could mean the difference between success and failure for
Mr. Stumbough felt the ranchers were at a
disadvantage when dealing individually with wind developers. The
developers, in most cases, know more than landowners about the value of
the wind and the transmission lines that will carry it.
instance, the deal that Mr. Ahlstrand offered Elsie Bacon was valued,
yard for yard, at as little as a quarter of the amount that the largest
local electrical cooperative had paid for a large transmission right of
way. And it included a nondisclosure clause to prevent her from
comparing notes with neighbors.
(Mr. Ahlstrand did not respond to repeated telephone calls and e-mail messages seeking his version of these events.)
Stumbough said: “I thought we could use collective bargaining
strategies to maybe have a little more leverage in negotiating with
wind developers. If we could all get together and work together
cooperatively and do some cost sharing and maybe share some of the
profits, I think it’s going to be a benefit to everybody.”
idea has quickly spread. Aside from the promise of economic dividends,
which may make it easier to stay on the land, ranchers are finding
other less tangible benefits to the groups.
Larry Cundall, a
rancher in Glendo who heads the Glendo Wind Energy Association, said
the organizational meeting in April attracted 126 people, some from 60
miles away. It had, Mr. Cundall said, “the feeling of an old country
“Afterward,” he went on, “everyone stood around and visited like we did before we had TV.”
initial reaction, Mr. Cundall said, had been “90 percent positive,”
although he admitted there was skepticism. “Everyone takes everything
with a grain of salt around here,” he said.
The associations send
out requests to wind developers who may be interested in constructing a
wind farm; Mr. Goertz’s Slater Association, the first one formed, gave
tours of their lands to at least a dozen different developers, Mr.
Goertz said, and are in the final stages of making a deal.
if the terms of the impending deal were better than those offered to
some of the ranchers originally, Mr. Goertz said simply, “Yes.”
financial arrangements of each association are unique, but in the case
of the Slater Wind Energy Association, 55 percent of the total annual
royalties is to be distributed among the landowners who have turbines
on their properties. The rest is to be distributed among all
association members, both those with turbines and those without.
Anderson, the state senator whose district covers the windy acres of
this region, welcomes the rise of these associations as vehicles to
market their wind and as bargainers with the leverage to get ranchers a
good deal. “I think the word is kind of out,” Mr. Anderson said, “that
Wyoming is probably ahead of the curve in regard to those people who
might be opportunist and want to come in and take advantage” of local
“I think that we’ve positioned ourselves well to be prudent and intelligent negotiators.”