Ag is firmly at the center of the growing trend for alternative energy, and it's not just ethanol and biodiesel. Increasingly, electricity produced from wind turbines is a growing part of the alternative energy trend. If you live in a part of the nation with sufficient wind to run the turbines, you may be approached about using your land for wind-energy production.

If that happens, there are a number of things to consider in the contract with the wind-energy company, says Nolan Clark, director and research leader at the USDA Conservation and Production Research Laboratory at Bushland, TX. The Bushland lab has been studying wind-energy production for more than 25 years and developed some of the wind turbines currently used in wind energy production.

First, consider the royalty payment. Often, it's best if landowners join together and negotiate as a group with the energy company. "It's good for the landowners because everybody gets the same deal and it's good for the energy company because they only have to deal with one law firm," Clark says.

While wind energy is a new and growing element in land use, it isn't much different from oil and gas production in terms of landowner relations, Clark says, and a lawyer familiar with oil and gas leases can help develop a wind-energy contract for landowners.

Beyond that, Clark says it's important to have a clear understanding about who has access to your land and how they'll get around. The energy company will want to build roads and the construction and maintenance of the turbines will require heavy equipment coming and going from your land. In addition, potential runoff and erosion from the roads and construction is an issue. And if you lease your land for other uses, like hunting, that needs to be addressed.

"If there's any land use, critical things you use (the land for) as a landowner, you want to address those in the contract," he says.

Then, what about longevity of the energy company? "Removal of old turbines in case of a bankruptcy or similar issue is a big thing," Clark says. "If anything happens to that company, then you've got some protection that the equipment will continue to be maintained, or it will be removed and you regain full capabilities of the land. A big wind turbine is not an inexpensive thing to remove."
-- Burt Rutherford