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Wind-Farm Contracts Stir Up Lots of Questions

HAMBURG, Iowa - The sight of 40-ton blades turning in the wind means different things to different people.

To some, wind farms are a boon for rural economic development. For others, they are a sign of hope for renewable energy. And, as area farmers are finding out, they can mean thousands of dollars in the pockets of rural landowners each year.

But, experts say, read the fine print. Under some contracts with wind developers - contracts ranging from 30 to 180 years - rural lands could be affected for generations to come.

Wind farms are relatively new in Nebraska and southwest Iowa. As the industry grows, more and more landowners in the region are being asked to lease their land and wind rights to wind energy companies.

Susan Williams Sloan, outreach manger for the American Wind Energy Association, said there is great opportunity for landowners. "I know there are quite a number of landowners who are very happy with what they have done, because they're making new revenues they haven't had before," she said. "It frees them up to do other things with that money."

Indeed, there is big money at stake - from $2,000 to $5,000 per wind turbine per year, on average, although some landowners report getting as much as $10,000 per turbine.

But, without an accepted industry standard, farmers wonder: When is a contract a good contract?

About 20 times each week, that question is asked of John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union. And it's what Iowa farm officials were trying to address at a community meeting in Hamburg, Iowa, last week.

More than 170 people from southwest Iowa went to Hamburg High School looking for answers from a two-hour meeting, sponsored by the Iowa State University Extension and the Iowa Farm Bureau offices in Fremont County.

Rural advocates and farmers groups have hosted other informational meetings around Nebraska and Iowa this year. Wind energy contracts will be discussed at the 2008 Wind Power Conference in Kearney, Neb., Nov. 11-12.

It's a hot topic because both Nebraska and Iowa have a lot of wind. Nebraska ranks No. 6 and Iowa No. 10 nationally in the potential to generate electricity from wind, according to the American Wind Energy Association...

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