Wind farms are big. They often involve groups of many landowners who all agree to lease their land for the same energy project. Since the land is connected, it’s common for these landowners to be related or closely acquainted, often for generations.
How do you get 300 or more landowners to lease their land? You hold a town hall, barbecue style.
After a lively dinner of barbecue, beans and potato salad, the wind company representatives show maps of the proposed wind farm and hand out educational materials. They explain that the leases could be lucrative. They hope the group will be enthusiastic about the economic boom to come. They may try to sign you up right then and there.
You need a lawyer to look at that lease before you sign it.
Getting a lawyer when multiple pieces of land are on the line
Because that became apparent, many landowners and government entities have used the town hall concept to educate landowners on wind leases and the prospects of the development. But ultimately, the success of the enterprise required a large number of landowners to sell or lease.
In Texas, public energy companies have the power of eminent domain. That means they can force the sale or lease of your land.
Wind companies need to negotiate with landowners as a group. In a sense, there is fairness to it. No single landowner gets a significantly better deal than the others. There is no holding out for a better deal. It’s a question of whether you’ll take the agreement or have your land taken.
Yet there’s no real advantage to being the first to sign the lease. It’s more important to feel confident in the deal you’re getting.
This is why many projects during Texas’s wind boom involved lawyers who represented many landowners at the same time. The agreement would be for each landowner to get the same deal as the others, but for the attorney to maximize the deal.
When handling multiple parties, ethical representation is key
When you hire a lawyer to represent you and a group of other landowners, it’s important to get someone who has handled such negotiations before. It’s crucial for your lawyer to be familiar with what is done customarily and where there is room for negotiations.
Just as important as knowledge, however, is your lawyer’s ability to ethically represent all group members.
- Your attorney should have represented large groups simultaneously before.
- He or she needs strong communication skills and a sense of how to communicate effectively with group clients.
- Your attorney needs to know how to maintain your confidentiality even when representing others in the same project.
- Your lawyer needs to be committed to your side, even when the wind company will reimburse the legal fees.
- He or she must be ethical when some clients have conflicts with others, or if a conflict of interest develops.
This ethical representation must begin at the initial meeting and must continue throughout the period of the project. You need to know your lawyer is being honest, straight and straightforward with you. You must feel comfortable that your attorney represents you, not just the group.
If you have been invited to a barbecue to sign a wind lease, don’t sign anything until you have had an attorney advise you. Talk to them about whether they’ve represented groups and how that works. Find out how they have represented others. You need solid, ethical representation just as much as you need concrete knowledge of wind energy projects.