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 pushy.”
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.
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.
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.”
Mr. 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.
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.
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 shrapnel.
He said he warmed to the idea of wind associations after long, individual negotiations with enXco, a French-owned developer.