Slater Wind Association in final negotiationsWritten by Jennifer Womack
By Jennifer Womack, WLR Managing Editor
Douglas – What began as discussions among neighbors just over a year ago resulted in the Slater Wind Association (SWA), a group that’s now in final negotiations with a wind developer.
SWA chairman and Slater area farmer and rancher Gregor Goertz recounted formation of the association and its benefits for attendees at the recent Roping the Wind Conference in Douglas.
In early September 2006 Goertz said over a six-year span he’d talked to one wind developer. Then, in a week’s time, he all of the sudden talked to three developers. He began calling his neighbors and doing some research. As he learned more he realized the wind developers had far more knowledge and leverage to negotiate than the landowners in his community. He also realized some had been contacted while others hadn’t when any development might impact the entire community. They also had little way of knowing if they were talking to a developer or someone who speculates on wind development rights.
With many leases already signed around his community Goertz explains, “Everybody to the south and to the west were large ranchers so a developer could come in and talk to one or two landowners. In our area it’s more of a checkerboard pattern.” The ownership pattern made the area less enticing from a developer’s standpoint, but that was something Goertz and his neighbors soon solved. While they didn’t know it in terms of numbers at the time, a wind resource that’s available 48 percent of the time and considered prime, also worked in their favor.
Goertz visited local NRCS Resource, Conservation and Development (RC&D) Coordinator Grant Stumbough and work began to form an association. Stumbough describes his job as making the experts available, doing what he can to gather information and serving as a resource to landowners. “We feel development is a priority, beneficial to our agricultural community, our economies and our natural resources,” said Stumbough of the Council he represents. He estimated the SWA project, if built at the potential 100 megawatt potential, could generate $5 million annually in tax revenue for Platte County.
After multiple meetings the group took form as an association and now includes around 30,000 acres and 48 members. With studies completed on wildlife, archaeological considerations and anything a developer might need to know, a request for proposals was sent out this past summer. In the end there were eight serious contenders for the group to choose from. Goertz said given the different forms in which developers submitted their bids, a unique counter-offer was drafted for each developer.
When deciding on a developer Goertz said they considered multiple factors weighing the company’s past success, their confidence in the company, the quality of relationships developed with their negotiators and the employment level of the person they were negotiating with. For example, were they dealing with a company executive?
Goertz said once the final negotiations are made individuals within the SWA will decide for themselves whether or not to sign a lease. Stumbough points out that this approach leaves room for individual landowner negotiations over access roads and other details.
The Slater Association is one of four Stumbough has helped form. The 11,000-acre Chugwater Wind Energy, LLC chaired by rancher Dan Kennedy, recently mailed its request for proposals with 10 responses received to date.
Stumbough said partnerships among landowners to form a block of available land and research done on behalf of potential developers enhances the value of lands to be leased. “It makes their job a whole lot easier,” said Stumbough.