Landowner Wind Energy Associations Gaining Acceptance

This is Part 4 in our series Primer on Renewable Energy and Transmission by Iowa resident, writer, and friend Loren Flaugh. It stems from a presentation he gave to Iowa State University students in the spring of 2014. This episode chronicles the early development of wind energy associations.

Where landowner wind energy associations first seemed to take root was 10 years ago in the Rocky Mountain states like Wyoming and Colorado. Wyoming now has 10 ranging in size from 12,000 acres on up to the 148,000 acre Walker Creek Wind Association.

However, interest in forming landowner associations could be migrating east. Shortly before the O’Brien County Landowners Association became official last summer, I attended an informational meeting where proponents of the association explained why the formation of this nonprofit organization would benefit all landowners.

Algona, Iowa, attorney Scott Buchanan provided his legal expertise on how to form the landowner’s association. Buchanan has considerable experience in drafting land-use agreements for wind farm developments and advising landowners about wind energy easement contracts.

Perhaps unwittingly, Buchanan led off his presentation by looking back 10 years at the early history of wind energy acquisition in the county. “Unfortunately, the way wind energy has progressed here is there’s been a furious 8 to 10 years of prospecting by wind developers that kind of overwhelmed landowners. 
Landowners didn’t have a lot of information available to them. Local attorneys really didn’t know a lot about the details of wind easements contracts and what their substantive terms meant.

“So, we’re playing a little catch up here. You really didn’t have the opportunity to form a landowners association 10 years ago when the energy companies started prospecting for land,” Buchanan said.

To explain why wind energy is gaining acceptance, Buchanan continued, “The prospect of wind energy development is very attractive for a lot of reasons. It represents clean energy. It represents new technology. It represents a future where we have more diverse, distributed energy resources rather than these large power plants that require coal and uranium.

“It brings the economics of energy home a little bit. It allows the landowner the opportunity to participate in the US energy markets and to profit from it. As long as it’s a fair deal for the landowners and a fair deal for the energy companies, there’s nothing wrong with landowners entering into these wind energy easement agreements.”

The O’Brien County association board established a one-time enrollment fee of $100 and a yearly membership rate of $0.50 per acre. That yearly fee is waived unless funds are required for the continued operations of the association.

Another area nearby where a wind energy association recently took root is in Lincoln County, South Dakota, south of Sioux Falls. The Dakota Power Community Wind Project is set to build their first of 16 meteorological towers this spring for assessing the potential amount of electricity the project could generate.

These landowners are far enough along that they have already secured a wind farm developer to start addressing all the legalities for developing and building a large utility-scale wind farm. Dakota Plains Energy based in Aberdeen, South Dakota, has agreed to develop the project. Dakota Plains is currently building the first phase of a planned 300 MW wind farm in Campbell County, South Dakota.

However, wind energy from Lincoln County needs to be connected onto a new high-voltage transmission line that’s yet to be developed and built. That power is then destined for the Rock Island AC to DC converter station near Sanborn, Iowa, and then delivered to areas in the eastern US.

Look for 3 more installments to finish the series. You’ll find Part 1 of the Primer on Renewable Energy and Transmission here. Part 2 looks at the regulatory system. Part 3 describes property tax benefits from wind development. Or treat yourself to Loren Flaugh’s full presentation here.