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Watch out for energy easements

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 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.”

A salesman came into V.R.’s home, walked around commenting on family heirlooms 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 CRP ground and he assured her that “we work with the government.” After telling him that she wasn’t interested, he then said, “I have something to show you that I’m not supposed to.” It was a large plat map of the township with certain sections marked for who had already signed easements. It was not true.

Stories have been 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.

Read the fine print. Do not sign an easement that would affect the legacy of your land and never sign anything without an attorney present. Get an attorney who understands easement law and is not already retained by an energy company. 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 who are senior citizens, 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.

­—Kim Brenneman lives in Parnell, Iowa.