Leasing your farmland for wind power offers another source of income — one that lets you continue farming the land. But wind agreements create complex legal and financial issues, and affect your property rights far into the future, says Jennifer Jambor-Delgado, a staff attorney at Minnesota-based Farmers’ Legal Action Group.

Because of this complexity — and the enormous sums of money and time involved in a wind project — you need competent legal advice from someone well-versed in wind power agreements, says Shannon Ferrell, an agricultural law professor at Oklahoma State University who specializes in renewable-energy contracts.

Ferrell also urges landowners to form a negotiation group “the moment you hear that someone in your area has been approached about wind power. You’ll strengthen your bargaining power.”

 

1. How will the lease affect my farming operation?

A commercial wind project needs about 60 acres of land per megawatt (MW). But only 3% of that area — roughly three acres — is occupied by turbines, substations and access roads. The rest is a buffer zone to preserve wind flow. The lease should clearly state your rights to use the land for farming, grazing, development of subsurface minerals, hunting or other uses, Jambor-Delgado says.

Despite a relatively small footprint, a wind project can significantly affect farm operations, efficiency and production, says Dwight Aakre, North Dakota State University Extension farm management specialist.

Turbines and access roads can change field configurations, disrupting row orientation and creating inconvenient end rows or land fragments inaccessible to large equipment.

Field-drainage patterns may be altered. Center-pivot irrigation systems can be blocked. On grazing land, fences, gates and cattle guards may have to be changed.

“Aerial crop spraying is often an issue,” Aakre says. In the north, snow plowing can cause headaches for growers. “Those access roads have to be kept open, and if the snow piles up in the field it can take a long time to melt in the spring, delaying or preventing planting.”

Farmers should raise agricultural-production issues in the initial contract talks, says Dean Retherford of Halderman Farm Management, Lafayette, IN. Retherford has helped negotiate leases for several wind projects in northwest and west-central Indiana, involving 39 wind turbines on farms he manages.

“We learned to request input on the location of roads,” Retherford says. “And the wind companies found that landowners were more of a help than a hindrance” in site decisions, he says.

The lease should clearly state how you will be compensated if land is taken out of production or crops, livestock, soil or other property are damaged during construction or operation. On one of the farms Retherford manages, for instance, a crane crushed half a mile of brand new 12-in. tile.