Recently, on a warm fall day, I stopped at my 77-year-old father-in-law’s farmhouse because he was meeting with a salesman for the fourth time regarding a transmission line easement. I walked into his sunporch to find four men with the sole purpose of persuading him to sign. Weeks later, he had to chase off surveyors who were trespassing on his property.
Stories of wind salesmen pursuing easements tell us that they manipulate retirees with phrases such as, “you’ll leave a ‘green’ legacy,” “the turbine will pay for your nursing home,” and “you’re leaving income for your grandchildren.” In the case of transmission lines, they tell of the “need for upgrades so that nobody goes without electricity” and “this line is needed because there might be a storm, and someone may die,” followed with “sign here.”
V.R.’s husband had just left the house when an easement salesman came to the door. He had previously visited the week before and spoke to her husband who assured the man that she would never sell an easement on land she inherited from her father.
The salesman came into her home, walked around commenting on family heirlooms, trying to connect with her sentimental nature and leaving a “green” legacy while presenting her with the alleged opportunity to get money for wind turbines.
She asked about the effects wind turbines would have on the 40 acres of wildflower pollinators she had recently planted on [Conservation Reserve Program] ground, and he assured her that “we work with the government.”
Targeting older landowners
After telling him she wasn’t interested, the salesman said, “I have something to show you that I’m not supposed to.” He brought from his car trunk a large plat map of the township with certain sections marked, including that of a prominent man in the county, who had already allegedly signed easements. The salesman told her, “I just want you in on it” and named the neighbors with how many turbines they were going to get. Looking at the names, V.R. said, “They wouldn’t do that.”
The salesman knew his bluff was called and then turned snarly, saying, “Your property isn’t getting wind turbines anyway; you might as well sign this easement so you can get paid for the wind currents flowing across your property.”
The salesman didn’t leave her home until she screamed at him to get out.
According to Iowa State University research, 60% of Iowa farmland is owned by people 65 years or older, and 60% of that farmland is owned by females over the age of 65. The data show that 35% is owned by people 75 years or older; 13% is owned by women over age 80.
Energy companies seem to be taking advantage of this demographic group of majority landowners. Stories are told of salesmen showing up on holidays seeming lonely and pathetic, or with a pet dog to break the ice; and approaching senior citizens in retirement communities.
Be fully informed, seek help
My advice: Do not sign an easement that would affect the legacy of your land and never sign anything without an attorney present. Many Iowa attorneys are held on retainer by an energy company; be sure yours is not. Easement law is not common knowledge in Iowa as it is in the West, where landowners have dealt with water or mineral rights for generations. Get an attorney who understands easement law.
If you are offered an easement, read the fine print closely. There are cases in Iowa where a transmission line company extends a 75-foot easement to the whole farm, “in case of a storm,” and then uses the whole farm as their collateral.
If you find someone needing protection — family members, friends or neighbors — from the predatory practices of companies pursuing land easements, encourage the landowner to ask questions and seek help from a knowledgeable, unbiased attorney.
Brenneman and her husband, Matt, farm near Parnell and are active in the Iowa County Wind Energy Education effort. Email email@example.com.