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Use caution when approached by solar, wind developers

An agricultural law professor says farmers need to be cautious when approached by solar and wind energy developers.

William Oemichen

William Oemichen teaches contract law at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He tells Brownfield farmers should not simply accept the first proposal they receive because there are many issues that need to be negotiated to protect the farmer and the land. “Realize that initial agreement was written by the developer’s attorney. It’s not written to be in your interest, it’s written to be in that developer’s interest.”

Oemichen says farmers should work with an attorney who has contract experience. “Even better if they’ve actually been involved in solar lease negotiations so they know what the potential risks, upsides, downsides, what’s typically being negotiated, what would be seen as unusual to negotiate. If you can get someone who’s more of a specialist like that, that’s the best of all worlds.”

And he says get everything in writing. “You’re going to have to reduce any oral agreements into a written provision of the agreement or you’re not going to be able to enforce it.”

Oemichen says make sure the contract specifies how the site will be decommissioned when the agreement expires and who’s paying for everything, like concrete and cable removal, or topsoil replacement. “Sometimes a developer will say, hey, at the end of the 20 years, we’ll let you have ownership of this and we’ll just walk away from it, but photovoltaic cells degrade over time and so your ability to generate revenue from it is going to degrade over time.”

Oemichen spoke to Brownfield during the recent Wisconsin Farm Bureau Annual Meeting.  A link to his fact sheet on solar farm leases can be found online here.

Audio: William Oemichen discusses farm solar leasing issues with Brownfield’s Larry Lee

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