Peoples Company launches energy unit

Founder Steve Bruere says renewable energy opportunities across the country have changed the way his Iowa-headquartered firm looks at farmland.

Land transaction and management firm Peoples Company has launched an energy management division to help its clients pursue opportunities related to fossil fuel and renewable energy development.

Based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the unit is the result of an effort that began about a year ago, when the firm hired former Farmers National Company chief executive Dave Englund as director of national accounts.

“Our clients are getting postcards in the mail about carbon pipelines. They are getting certified letters saying: ‘We want to lease your wind rights’ or ‘we want to put a tower on your property’ or ‘we want to do a solar project’,” Peoples Company founder Steve Bruere tells Agri Investor. “We’re just trying to help people evaluate what they should or shouldn’t do.”

Examples of prime Iowa farmland being converted into solar projects, he said, have highlighted the importance of appropriate site selection in energy development. Recent energy prices, the drive among utilities to phase out fossil fuels and the focus on renewables within the Inflation Reduction Act, Bruere adds, are among factors motivating Peoples Company to expand its focus.

“We’ve started looking at farmland a little differently,” he says. “It used to be, ‘what can I grow on this?’ Now you are starting to look at it as, ‘where is the transmission capacity? Can I develop wind? Can I develop solar on this?’”

Whereas surface and mineral rights are often sold as a package in the Midwest, Bruere explained mineral rights are generally not included in farmland sales in other regions. As the firm has expanded its management and appraisal business, he says, Peoples Company has encountered opportunities viewed until recently as externalities to farmland such as solar in the Delta region, oil and gas in the Plains states and wind energy in the Pacific Northwest and Midwest.

“If you are in some of these water-stressed areas, this is a great alternative,” he adds. “If you are going to lose your ability to irrigate land because there are declining aquifers, but you can convert that land to wind or solar, then it’s a great use for that land that otherwise would be fallowed

The oil and gas portions of Clive, Iowa-headquartered Peoples Company’s energy unit is led by Kayla Rowan, who joins the company from Farmers National where she was relationship manager, having previously held a minerals management role at the business. Peoples Company’s renewables practice will be led by Blake Singleton, who also joins from Farmers National.

Rowan tells Agri Investor that because the energy resources governed by mineral rights often have different boundaries to the properties at the surface level, such rights are very complicated and often overlooked.

“Over the years, when someone has reserved those mineral rights and it gets passed down to grandkids or gifted to universities, they are left with something that maybe somebody understood at some time, but they don’t,” she says. “There may be one, or hundreds or thousands of oil wells producing from their property and it becomes very complicated.”

Though some degree of reluctance and lack of information has traditionally kept the groups of investors active in oil and gas and renewables largely separate, Rowan adds, Peoples Company’s expansion reflects growing interest in both categories.

“Everybody is wrestling with this, this whole renewables thing,” she says. “There are a lot of incentives under the current administration and when the money is there, you see a lot of activity along with social movement in the renewables space.”

Bruere says he is aware of institutional investors already incorporating mineral rights expertise into their farmland investment strategies. Peoples Company sees expansion into energy as part of its fiduciary duty, he adds.

“If we do an appraisal and completely miss a solar opportunity that make that property worth 10 times more than it is as a farm, that’s a real problem for us,” says Bruere.