New Minnesota Organization Protects Property Rights, Fights Wind Farms

Published March 26, 2018

A group of Minnesota landowners banded together in 2017 to form Wind Locked, LLC, a conservation holding company established to support landowners’ efforts to block wind turbine construction near their agricultural and rural lands.

Its members assign their rights to wind development to Wind Locked. The company has grown from just a few landowners less than a year ago to more than 130 members today.

New Problem, New Concept

In early 2017, wind companies were expanding into rural Minnesota, spurred in part by recently constructed power lines opening new areas where turbines could be erected and easily transmit energy across state borders. Residents in Faribault and Martin Counties, worried about potentially negative economic and environmental effects of wind turbine projects, formed Wind Locked to block unwanted wind farms.

Landowners who join Wind Locked sign a legal agreement giving the company control over their wind rights. Wind rights are similar to easements, applying to wind-related uses above a physical property. By pooling its members’ wind rights to ensure unimpeded wind flow over their parcels, Wind Locked prevents new wind projects from being built on or near their land.

‘This Was About Control’

Wind Locked President Carolyn Zierke says the company was formed after local officials ignored landowners’ requests to prevent wind farms from being built too close to their homes.

“The founding members were concerned about intrusive wind projects in our communities,” said Zierke. “We went to a local commissioner requesting the commission change the setback requirement for wind turbines, only to find the commissioner had already made an agreement with wind companies, so we were out of luck. We realized this was about control.”

A 2016 state law made land rights and wind rights over parcels distinct and separable in Minnesota, says Zierke.

“To build turbines, wind energy companies need land and wind rights,” Zierke said. “One farmer suggested that we just hold on to those wind rights.”

Protection for Small Landowners

Landowners and homeowners can become members of Wind Locked, with members owning shares in the company and jointly making decisions for it. Zierke says shares are assigned in a way that prevents large property owners from dominating decision-making.

“Homeowners and landowners both have one voting share apiece, ‘A shares,’ while landowners retain a number of ‘B shares’ proportional to their acreage,” said Zierke. “This arrangement is meant to prevent large landowners, or multiple owners of one tract, from dominating decision-making, while preserving the possibility of wind rights sales if members agree to do so.

“Large voting majorities are needed to allow landowners to sell their wind rights once they’re members,” Zierke said.

Undertaking Conservation Efforts

Though the organization’s sole original intention was to protect property rights from powerful wind interests, Zierke says Wind Locked is taking its conservation mission seriously, for instance by collaborating with scientists to locate eagles’ nests.

“We’ve sought grant funding from the American Eagle Foundation to compile a list of the GPS locations of known eagle nesting places,” said Zierke. “Such information is valuable to wildlife enthusiasts and scientists alike.

“Although eagles are no longer an endangered species, wind turbine projects can threaten their existence,” Zierke said.

‘Never Been Done Before’

Zierke says Wind Locked’s approach to protecting property from wind development is unique.

“We have researched our model.” said Zierke. “To our knowledge, it has never been done before.”

John Droz, director of the Alliance for Wise Energy Decisions, agrees Wind Locked is a novel organization.

“I think their approach has some merit,” said Droz. “I don’t know of any other group doing this, exactly.

“Some states have subsidy programs used to purchase easements to prevent wind turbine construction near military bases; however, those programs are driven by military interests and are somewhat different, although they have the same goal,” Droz said. “Wind Locked was instead created by rural residents and landowners and does not utilize any subsidies, making the company distinct.”

Droz says he thinks any organization educating rural landowners about the pros and cons of wind energy is worthy of support.

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Droz. “The more information and options farmers have, the better off they are.”

Matt Kelly ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.