Who owns the wind? The property and justice of eolian energy

Authors: David Hughes*, Rutgers University
Topics: Energy, Anthropocene, Europe
Keywords: energy, property, enclosure, feudalism, sustainability, wind
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 2:35 PM / 4:15 PM
Room: Roosevelt 4, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Property law will determine the nature and very possibility of an energy transition from fossil fuels to renewables. As a non-surface resource, the kinetic energy of air might – like minerals and oil – belong to a local, national, or global commons. The lively qualities of wind, however, have frustrated such a claim. Instead, landowners are appropriating rights de facto, monopolizing the benefits of wind, and excluding land-poor neighbors from the same. This paper presents ethnographic and policy research from the turbine-dense landscape of southern Spain. There, latifundistas – some descended from medieval nobility or in possession of medieval estates – have signed contracts with turbine operators. Villagers find themselves powerless to stop such deals. Technically, many are squatting on old cattle routes. They can only insult the landowners as “caciques.” This conflict does not trouble the wind companies. Indeed, a low level of anti-eolic protest serves their interests: opposition keeps the number of wind farms scarce and, thereby, boosts the value of wind-generated megawatts. In fact, the kinetic energy of air is taking economic shape as a replica of oil reserves – as an artificially scarce and always profitable commodity. Ultimately, a bizarre conjuncture of legal lacunae, archaic land relations, and eco-capitalist finance may stop the energy transition almost as soon as it begins.

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