Farm Progress

Guest column: Understand terms in wind energy leases and easements before putting your name on the line.

Janna Swanson

January 18, 2017

3 Min Read
PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS: A grassroots group of Iowa farmers and landowners has been formed, called the Coalition for Rural Property Rights. “Many people have signed leases and easements with wind energy companies to allow them to erect turbines on their land, without fully understanding what they are signing and the terms in those contracts,” says Janna Swanson, a farmer and member of the coalition.

The construction of wind turbines, and the establishment and expansion of so-called “wind farms,” is a continuing effort in Iowa. A number of Iowa landowners are being presented with a proposal by the wind energy companies to sign or not sign a wind turbine “leasement” (a combination of a lease and an easement).

We see different levels of interest in our area near Royal in Clay County in northwest Iowa. So few people are willing to sign, that the wind companies had to move on to neighboring Palo Alto County where the wind companies have signed 100 easements. We see that half of these easements were signed by absentee landowners and at least a fourth of them were signed by one farm manager.

Push to sign
Why are so many landowners not willing to sign these easements? I have spoken to landowners living in industrial wind energy installations from Adair to Lake Park to Webster City to Primghar. I have also heard from folks in Kansas, Missouri, Vermont and Oklahoma.

While you can find people who are pleased with their experience, I have heard statements such as “We had to put in sound-proof windows; it helped some.” And, “If we knew then what we know now this (wind turbine installation) never would have happened.” And, “We thought we were doing something good; now we just wish we had our farm back.”

Property rights lost
I’ve never seen a wind contract that lets you keep all your property rights. It is your rights the company is buying: the right to say what does and doesn’t happen on your land.

There are many landowners who will not speak up publicly about the detriments and aggravation they experience. Some are embarrassed because they lobbied for the wind companies to come. Some feel that they have signed a gag order. But I have been assured by lawyers that gag orders may be implied but are not legal. You are likely not supposed to speak about the designs for the wind turbines, the power output or the money you are being paid, but anything else cannot be “gagged.”

Even with that information though, it is hard to oppose a company that has control over and under so much of your property. It is a marriage that you cannot divorce from.

In wind contracts, the landowner will often give up rights to file claim against noise, vibration, turbulence and shadow flicker. These issues also can affect your neighbors up to a mile away. In Ireland, seven families have won a nuisance lawsuit against wind turbines, while Garden Township in Michigan recently settled with turbine owners over turbine nuisance.

Coalition formed
Many people have signed these leases and easements without fully understanding what they are signing and the terms within. They take the wind companies at their word, but when it comes right down to it, words don’t matter, only how the contract reads. Make sure you have a capable lawyer read any contract before you sign it.

There are many good resources for learning about the downfalls of a wind energy easement. Iowa State University’s Center for Ag Law and Taxation has had great articles and presentations online at There is a series of videos that were made by the Illinois Farm Bureau also available online. We have posted one of the videos on our Facebook page.

Iowa landowners such as I have begun an organization to help educate other landowners. We are the Coalition for Rural Property Rights. We are completely grassroots and locally funded. For more information, please contact us at

Swanson farms with her family near Ayrshire in northwest Iowa.


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