Wind conversation focuses on landowners’ rights, wind recommendations
Wheatland – According to landowner attendees of Governor Freudenthal’s May 24 Community Conversation on Wind Development in Wheatland, the meeting held a lot of discussion about landowners’ rights and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s recently-released wind energy development best management practices.
“There was a lot of discussion on private property rights, and the landowners talked about how they think the Game and Fish has overstepped their bounds,” says Glendo-area landowner Larry Cundall, describing the discussion as fiery. “The Governor tried to turn the discussion to sage grouse at every opportunity, and that was not what the landowners wanted to talk about. We wanted to talk about landowners’ rights.”
“There are two things that disturb me,” says Bob Whitton, chairman of the Renewable Energy Association of Landowners (REAL). “One is the picture of the wind energy transmission lines that shows all the new lines going in, but doesn’t show the existing transmission lines, railroads, pipelines and highways. As a consequence, the picture that’s painted is that the new transmission lines will fundamentally change Wyoming, but in fact we’re already an energy exporting state, moving energy by wire, pipeline, railroad and highway and those things are already out there going across Wyoming. The lines being proposed don’t come close to numbering as many as those already taking advantage of ranchers’ lands.”
Whitton points out the existing forms of energy transportation don’t pay anything to landowners. “There’s a member of REAL who has 12 pipelines and three transmission lines going across him, and these people don’t get paid for any of that,” says Whitton. “While they’re trying to contract with a wind developer for turbines so they can keep their ranch in operation the Governor is painting this to look like they’re taking advantage of the people who get transmission lines and no turbines. We understand that’s a problem, which is why we’re advocating reasonable annual payments.”
“We’re not despoiling Wyoming or shoving this down anyone’s throat,” says Whitton. “We’re the first group I know of that’s advocating for those people with transmission to get a reasonable annual payment for compensation. Companies, corporations, landowners, counties and the state all get something from energy development, and we’re the first to advocate those people with transmission should share in it.”
Regarding private property rights and the wind energy BMPs, Whitton says many landowners – whether they be for or against wind development – are upset about the recommendations and the way they’ll be used.
“While I understand the problem of the sage grouse, and nobody wants to see it listed, every animal in the world is being treated like a sage grouse with these recommendations, and every time I tried to talk about the issue with the Governor he started talking about sage grouse,” explains Whitton. “But we’re not talking about sage grouse in southeast Wyoming. We don’t have sage grouse.”
Whitton adds the BMPs intrude on what landowners want to do on their own private land. “Right now I can go put in a fence or a road anywhere I want on my land, unless I sign a contract with a wind developer, then the Game and Fish has a say-so and they bring along the environmental groups that don’t even necessarily live in Wyoming, and it gives them as much say on my land, and I don’t think that’s right.”
“We didn’t feel like we got paid any attention at the Game and Fish Commission meeting in late April, and I don’t think the Governor paid attention to us either,” says Whitton.
Cundall adds that he thinks the Governor was more negative to wind energy development than he has been in the past, saying that some people from out of the county also spoke up about how the recently imposed taxes aren’t helping the wind industry get off the ground, and that the Governor is taxing things too soon.
“It’s beginning to appear that the Governor doesn’t want wind development and is trying to derail it, while we see it as a tremendous benefit to our communities and our young people. We feel like the Governor’s opposed to us taking advantage of what we do have in the state’s three poorest counties – Platte, Goshen and Niobrara,” says Whitton.
“He wanted a discussion, and he got one,” says Cundall of the evening. “The environmentalists and other groups didn’t get into the battle, because it was pretty much all landowners talking about the way the Governor is handling things.”
Christy Hemken is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.