United States

United States

INDUSTRY VINDICATED IN WIND RIGHTS ISSUE

Northern State Power NSP has been criticised for having used "eminent domain" powers to secure land for wind development. It has become a hot issue in Minnesota. The big issue is who should control wind rights, the developer or a utility.

Despite concern in the US wind industry, the state of Minnesota does not believe that Northern States Power (NSP) has acted unfairly towards land-owners on Buffalo Ridge. Reports have circulated about a farmer unhappy with NSP over the utility's apparent use of "eminent domain" to allow compulsory purchase of wind rights to the farmer's land. There have been fears that wind will get a bad name throughout the Midwest.

Steve Corneli of the state Attorney General's office says, "There doesn't seem to be a problem." He says utilities have the right to use the process as long as the landowner gets a "fair market price." But he acknowledges the issue of eminent domain is a hot political one in Minnesota ever since the the siting of a controversial power line in the 1970s.

An investigation was started some months ago after a local newspaper reported the case of William Wellberg, who alleged that NSP was using eminent domain to acquire wind rights on land Wellberg had deeded to another person. As a result, Wellberg said he lost the money he was using for his retirement and the land's wind rights. His parcel was the last to be signed up for Phase I of a wind development on Buffalo Ridge. State officials say they are not aware of any other complaints from Buffalo Ridge landowners, even though they have advertised in local newspapers. Corneli says eminent domain is often used by utilities in the US, typically before the construction of traditional power plants and transmission lines.

More uncertain, he says, is whether a utility can use eminent domain to acquire wind rights if the legislature is mandating the development, as it is in Minnesota. Also at issue is who can control wind rights, the wind developer or a utility.

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