solar leasing

Solar panels iand corn growing in a field in Ohio
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Wednesday, August 31st, 2022

Solar and wind energy development is thriving in Ohio, and most of that development will occur on leased farmland.  Programs in the newly enacted federal Inflation Reduction Act might amplify renewable energy development even more.  The decision to lease land for wind and solar development is an important one for a farmland owner, and one that remains with a farm for decades.  It’s also a very controversial issue in Ohio today, with farmers and community residents lining up on both sides of the controversy.  For these reasons, when a landowner receives a “letter of intent” for wind or solar energy development, we recommend taking a careful course of action.  Here are a few considerations that might help.

Purpose and legal effect of a letter of intent.  Typically, a letter of intent for renewable energy development purposes is not a binding contract, but it might be.  The purposes of the letter of intent are usually to provide initial information about a potential solar lease and confirm a landowner’s interest in discussing the possibility of a solar lease.  Unless there is compensation or a similar benefit provided to the landowner and the letter states that it’s a binding contract, signing a letter of intent wouldn’t have the legal effect of committing the landowner to a solar lease.  But the actual language in the letter of intent would determine its legal effect, and it is possible that the letter would offer a payment and contain terms that bind a landowner to a leasing situation.

Attorney review is critical.  To ensure a clear understanding of the legal effect and terms of the letter of intent, a landowner should review the letter with an attorney.  An attorney can explain the significance of terms in the letter, which might include an “exclusivity” provision preventing the landowner from negotiating with any other solar developer for a certain period of time, “confidentiality” terms that prohibit a landowner from sharing information about the letter with anyone other than professional advisors, “assignment” terms that allow the other party to assign the rights to another company, and initial details about the proposed project and lease such as location, timeline, and payments.  Working through the letter with an attorney won’t require a great deal of time or cost but will remove uncertainties about the legal effect and terms of the letter of intent.

Negotiating an Option and Lease would be the next steps. If a landowner signs a letter of intent, the next steps will be to negotiate an Option and a Lease.  It’s typical for a letter of intent to summarize the major terms the developer intends to include in the Option and Lease, which can provide a helpful “heads up” on location, payments and length of the lease.  As with the letter of intent, including an attorney in the review and negotiation of the Option and Lease is a necessary practice for a landowner.  We also recommend a full consideration of other issues at this point, such as the effect on the farmland, farm business, family, taxes, estate plans, other legal interests, and neighbor relations. Read more in our “Farmland Owner’s Guide to Solar Leasing” and “Farmland Owner’s Solar Leasing Checklist”.

New laws in Ohio might prohibit the development.  A new law effective in October of 2021 gives counties in Ohio new powers to restrict or reject wind and solar facilities that are 50 MW or more in size.  A county can designate “restricted areas” where large-scale developments cannot locate and can reject a specific project when it’s presented to the county. The new law also allows citizens to organize a referendum on a restricted area designation and submit the designation to a public vote. Smaller facilities under 5-MW are not subject to the new law.  Several counties have acted on their new authorities under the law in response to community concerns and opposition to wind and solar facilities.  Community opposition and whether a county has or will prohibit large-scale wind and solar development are additional factors landowners should make when considering a letter of intent.  Learn more about these new laws in our Energy Law Library.

It's okay to slow it down.  A common reaction to receiving a letter of intent is that the landowner must act quickly or could lose the opportunity.  Or perhaps the document itself states a deadline for responding.  A landowner shouldn’t let those fears prevent a thorough assessment of the letter of intent.  If an attorney can’t meet until after the deadline, for example, a landowner should consider contacting the development and advising that the letter is under review but meeting the deadline isn’t possible.  That’s a much preferred course of action to signing the letter without a review just to meet an actual or perceived deadline.

For more information about energy leases in Ohio, refer to our Energy Law Library on the Farm Office website at https://farmoffice.osu.edu/our-library/energy-law.

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Wednesday, October 13th, 2021

Large-scale wind and solar energy development has generated both opportunity and conflict across Ohio in recent years.  For several months, we monitored the progress of Senate Bill 52, a proposal intended to address community and landowner concerns about wind and solar facilities.  This past Monday marked the effective date for Senate Bill 52, passed by the Ohio Legislature in June, and we've been busy developing new resources to help explain the laws that are now effective. 

The legislation expands local involvement in the siting and approval of large-scale wind and solar facilities in several ways:

  • County commissioners may designate “restricted areas” where such facilities may not locate.
  • County citizens may petition for a referendum to approve or reject restricted area designations.
  • Developers must hold a public meeting overviewing a proposed facility in the county where it would locate.
  • County commissioners may prohibit or limit a proposed wind or solar facility after learning of it at the public meeting.
  • County and township representatives must sit on the Ohio Power Siting Board committee that reviews facility applications.

The new laws also require wind and solar developers to submit decommissioning plans and performance bonds to address removal of a facility at the end of its lifetime. 

Our two law bulletins and video series on Senate Bill 52 are now available.  The resources work through each part of Senate Bill 52 and explain which types of facilities will be subject to the laws.  You'll find the new resources in our energy law library on the Farm Office website at https://farmoffice.osu.edu/our-library/energy-law.

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Wednesday, August 14th, 2019

Large "utility-scale" solar energy development is on the rise in Ohio.  In the past two years, the Ohio Power Siting Board has approved six large scale solar projects with generating capacities of 50MW or more, and three more projects are pending approval.   These “solar farms” require a large land base, and in Ohio that land base is predominantly farmland.   The nine solar energy facilities noted on this map will cover about 16,500 acres in Brown, Clermont, Hardin, Highland and Vinton counties.  About 12,300 of those acres were previously used for agriculture. 

With solar energy development, then, comes a new demand for farmland:  solar leasing.  Many Ohio farmland owners have received post cards and letters about the potential of leasing land to a solar energy developer.  This prospect might sound appealing at first, particularly in a difficult farming year like this one.  But leasing land for a solar energy development raises many implications for the land, family, farm operation, and community.  It's a long-term legal commitment--usually 25 years or more--that requires careful assessment and a bit of homework. 

To help landowners who are considering solar leasing, we've joined forces with Eric Romich, OSU Extension's Field Specialist in Energy Education, to publish the Farmland Owner's Guide to Solar Leasing.  The online guide explains the state of solar energy development in Ohio, reviews initial considerations for leasing farmland to solar, and describes legal documents and common terms used for solar leasing.  The guide's solar leasing checklist organizes the information into a list of issues to consider, things to do, people to consult, and questions to ask before deciding whether to enter into a solar lease.

The Farmland Owner's Guide to Solar Leasing is available at no cost on our Farm Office website, here.  A separate Law Bulletin of The Farmland Owner's Solar Leasing Checklist is also available on Farm Office, here.  We produced the guide in partnership with the National Agricultural Law Center at the University of Arkansas, with funding from the National Agricultural Library, Agricultual Research Service, at the United States Department of Agriculture.

 

Posted In: Contracts, Property, Renewable Energy
Tags: solar leasing
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By: Evin Bachelor, Thursday, June 27th, 2019

Many landowners across the state have been contacted by solar energy developers interested in leasing farmland for utility-scale solar energy production.  The combination of improved technology, reduced production costs, the phase-out of federal tax credits, and the willingness of landowners to enter into long-term leases have made 2019 a sunny year for entering into solar leases.

The sudden surge of solar leasing has led to new questions about what this type of lease mean for a landowner, a community, and the future.  As these leases may last for 30 years or more, it is important to understand what a utility-scale solar energy development looks like, along with the terms in a solar lease and the implications of signing.

Join OSU Extension Field Specialists Peggy Kirk Hall and Eric Romich on Monday, July 15th for a conversation on solar leasing.  Together, the presenters will address solar development trends, converting farmland to solar production, and key considerations to weigh before signing a solar lease.  Those interested may choose between one of two sessions:

  • Morning session: Madison County from 9:00am to noon at the Red Brick Tavern (1700 Cumberland Road/Route 40, London, Ohio).  Breakfast will be provided!
  • Afternoon session: Greene County from 2:00pm to 5:00pm at the Greene County Extension office (100 Fairground Road, Xenia, Ohio).

Each meeting will cover the same information.  Registration is required, but there is no cost to attend.  To register for the morning session in Madison County, email Griffith.483@osu.edu or call 740-852-0975.  To register for the afternoon session in Greene County, email Corboy.3@osu.edu or call 937-372-9971.

Click HERE to view the official flier.  In the meantime, if you want to learn more about some of the documents and major considerations that will be discussed at the meeting, click HERE.  If you want to learn more about some common solar lease terms, click HERE.

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Friday, March 30th, 2018

Here’s our gathering of recent agricultural law news you may want to know:

  • The Ohio Department of Agriculture will hold a hearing on April 5, 2018 at 9 a.m. to receive testimony on proposed amendments to the Agricultural Pollution Abatement Program. The amendments are largely alterations of the format and structure of the rule to allow for easier reading, and do not impact the substance of the rule in many situations. Two changes to the substance of the rules is the addition of a duty to prevent pollution from “residual farm products,” which means bedding, wash waters, waste feed, silage drainage and some mortality composting, and clarification of the investigation and enforcement process. Read the ODA’s summary of the changes here. Hearing information is here.
  • Considering solar leasing on your farm? If so, sit in on the Solar Leasing for Agricultural Landowners webinar on April 4 at Noon. The free webinar features our colleague Prof. Shannon Ferrell of Oklahoma State, who will remove some of the mystery of solar leasing for landowners. More information is here.
  • Several groups have filed a lawsuit against the USDA for its March 12 withdrawal of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule finalized during President Obama’s tenure. The rule would have established animal welfare standards for organic producers. Read more about the organizations’ claims in this post by our Ag & Food Law Consortium partner, the National Sea Grant Law Center.
  • Another Consortium partner of ours, Penn State Law, has prepared a comprehensive summary of the current status and legal developments for the problematic Rover Pipeline that is affecting many landowners in Ohio and other states. The summary is here.
  • Ohio legislative activity:
    • The Apiary Immunity bill, H.B. 392, passed the Ohio House on March 21 and was introduced in the Ohio Senate on March 26.  The bill proposes limited liability for registered apiary owners.
    • Rep. Fedor (D-Toledo) and Rep. Sheehy (D-Toledo) introduced HCR 25, a resolution encouraging the U.S. EPA Administrator to declare the open waters of Western Lake Erie as impaired, consistent with the Ohio EPA’s recent water quality report we reported on earlier this week.
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