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Local farmers, landowners invest in wind energy

Published: Friday, Feb. 22, 2013 12:05 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Feb. 22, 2013 12:42 p.m. CDT
(Official White House Photo)
Jeff Heil, his father Richard (left) and President Obama tour the Laurel Wind Farm last summer. The president stopped at the farm during his 2012 campaign to promote wind energy.

When a handful of companies looked to set up a wind farm in southern Marshall county in 2007, Jeff Heil and his neighbors did something that hadn’t been done before: they drew up a contract with over 60 landowners in agreement to participate in a wind farm that would benefit everyone, regardless of turbine location.

“There were two different brokers that sort of go out and develop the farms before they sell them off,” said Heil, a farmer from Haverhill. “A few of us neighbors got together to chat about what was going on because we didn’t want a checkerboard effect.”

Heil and his neighbors decided to do a bit more research, talking to other wind farms, attending symposiums and even contacting the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University.

“We ended up selecting RPM Access to intermediate, get us set up,” Heil said. “We sort of created a new type of contract that hadn’t been done in the state of Iowa – a contract that allowed everybody in the border to participate financially. We tried to make a community type of contract instead of an individual one.”

The Laurel Wind Farm was eventually purchased by Mid-American Energy and was fully up and running in December of 2011. After just a year of living in the shadow of the farm, Heil says his and his neighbors’ decision to lease their land has been a positive one.

“You know, you drive around the state and you see them, you know they look good for a distance but if you live underneath one you think, what’s the impact?” he said. “Everybody had all these kind of concerns and questions.”

“Farming around them is less of an inconvenience than I thought,” said Heil, who has five turbines on his property and two on his property borders. “We were worried about the roads they were putting down, but we use them for access so it’s been more of a convenience than an inconvenience.”

“Overall it’s been a good experience,” he said of the decision to lease his land – a decision that led to a visit from President Obama during his 2012 campaign in support of wind energy. “Going in, we knew the pros and cons. If we’re going to live within a mile or two (of ideal land), we’re still going to see turbines, so we figured, why not do something beneficial to everybody?”