Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Don't separate wind rights, surface rights

It's in Wyoming's best interest to set the ground rules now for the growing wind energy industry, to avoid future conflicts between landowners and developers. A bill being drafted by the Legislature's Joint Judiciary Committee would establish wind energy property rights alongside surface and mineral rights. It would also prevent landowners in the state from selling their wind energy rights separately from their surface rights, which a few have already done. Wyoming has already seen many negative effects of the "split estate" concept, which allows mineral rights to be sold separately from surface rights. Five years ago the Legislature passed a law that requires developers to make reasonable accommodation of existing surface uses, which has greatly reduced some -- but not all -- of the conflicts. "It's taken 125 years to sort out the relationship just between the mineral owners and the surface owners," noted Dennis Stickley, a University of Wyoming law professor who helped develop the panel's draft wind energy bill. He predicted that without this bill, "We'll have another 100 years of litigation and conflicts between wind rights and surface rights." There's no reason for such costly and time-consuming battles, because the Legislature has the opportunity to head them off now. Wind energy rights could still be leased under the draft bill, but they wouldn't be able to be sold separately from surface ownership. Lawmakers in North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska have already taken such an approach, and Wyoming should follow their example...more

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