Reclaiming the windy commons: landownership, wind rights, and the assetization of renewable resources

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The ‘second phase’ of the energy transition involves large-scale rollout of renewables, raising wider questions about arrangements for the management and ownership of such resources and how costs and benefits should be distributed. Ideas and practices such as ‘community energy’ and ‘prosumption’ capture the potential for more decentralised systems of ownership and control inherent in renewable energy technologies. However, until now, ownership and control of the key biophysical resources (e.g., wind, wave, solar, geothermal) underpinning the transition have received surprisingly little attention, given the potential for wealth creation and issues of justice that underpin their use. This paper explores this issue using the idea of ‘wind rights’, which highlights the numerous social actors who have rights or claims to use and benefit from wind resources. Key among these are landowners who are silently enclosing the ‘windy commons’ to extract ‘wind rents’ from monopoly property rights. This has profound (but undertheorised) distributive and structural ramifications for the energy transition. Despite this, and with some recent notable exceptions, much energy transition research in social science and humanities portrays landowners as taken-for-granted, apolitical, and sometimes marginal (ised) stakeholders. Combining a Marxist, class-based approach to landownership and wind rent with Ostromian institutional analysis, this paper reviews and expands the (predominantly legal) literature on wind rights. This deepens the understanding of the concept of ‘wind rights’, highlighting that in many instances wind resources are de facto privatised/enclosed via ‘proxy wind rights’ for landowners. We also indicate some alternative wind rights configurations, including nationally and commonly managed wind resources. This analysis leads to a consideration of the potential long-term benefits of alternative socially orientated property rights arrangements, including community wind rights or nationalisation of the wind resource. These social wind rights arrangements could play a key role in securing a more just and widely supported transition.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3744
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 19 May 2022


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