A Land Rush in Wyoming Spurred by Wind Power

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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.

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.


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

or not.”

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.

From early

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

renewable energy.

“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

before Thanksgiving.

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

some ranchers.

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.”

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