SOUTH CAYUGA – A group of farm families are today vacating land on which they’ve toiled for decades to make way for a South Korean company’s plan to build wind and solar energy projects.
Nineteen farmers were advised a month ago they would need to make way for testing procedures by a consortium led by Samsung, which was given a controversial $7-billion deal by the Liberal government in January to create power facilities by 2015.
While some farmers were told to vacate the land for solar testing, others are — for now — only required to provide access to their properties for wind testing. But even those farmers will have to vacate after the growing season if the land proves acceptable.
About 486 hectares are involved and almost half of that was until today leased by Ed and Alice Kelly of South Cayuga Sideroad. They’ve grown corn and soybeans on the land for three decades and had already planted some of their crop for the year.
“We’re the ones that are affected the most,” said Alice Kelly, 52. “This was a big surprise.”
Notices were sent to the Kellys and other farmers May 7 by the Ontario Realty Corporation, which continues to own 2,145 hectares from a land bank of 5,050 hectares it assembled in the 1970s when South Cayuga was being considered for a city of 250,000 people.
The 19 farmers who lease 35 properties have received letters but ORC spokesperson Caroline Knight would not provide a breakdown of how many have to leave the land and how many are required only to provide access, because she said it would impact Samsung’s proprietary information.
Kelly said they were at first leery about the move because of the land loss but the government late last week provided a compensation package that took some of the sting away. Kelly said the province is compensating farmers for what they would have received from the selling of produce, plus compensation for what they spent on growing crops.
The Kellys planted 32 hectares of corn before they received the letter telling them they were losing the 202 hectares they lease.
“It’s pretty good compensation considering that we won’t be able to plant our crops and we won’t be able to rent it anymore,” said Kelly, who declined to give the dollar figure. “No farmer ever wants to lose land.”
Kelly said the unknown is whether after the testing farmers will be able to lease back land Samsung decides it does not need for its projects. Kelly said they’ve been told the province is leaving that up to the consortium.
“We just hope in the following years if they do not (need it) that farmers that rented a piece of land could rent it back again,” she added. “That would be nice, but that’s up in the air.”
Knight confirmed farmers would be compensated on a lease-by-lease case.
South Cayuga is eyed for 55 wind turbines. Samsung aims to produce 2,500 megawatts from solar and wind in Haldimand and Essex counties and the municipality of Chatham-Kent, equivalent to 4 per cent of Ontario’s total electricity consumption. The province has told the Ontario Power Authority to provide Samsung with 500 MW of transmission capacity, angering others looking to create energy projects.
The Haldimand Federation of Agriculture passed a resolution at its May meeting and forwarded it to Ontario Federation of Agriculture as well as Haldimand County questioning the wisdom of “substantial solar farm development” on farmland. It is asking the province to prohibit further development on “land capable of sustained plant growth” and shift solar outfits to urban, commercial and industrial sites. It argues the loss of land may harm the environment. The federation urges closer examination.
HFA president Wayne Nyomtato and treasurer Frank Sommer say they do not know details of the ORC’s termination of leases.
“We’re quite concerned about the loss of farmland or any pasture that can grow crops,” Sommer said. “These solar panels — what we’re saying is there are acres of rooftops and why not cover them first. … It doesn’t make sense to me.”
“It’s not a NIMBY kind of thing,” Nyomtato said. “What we’re against is this solar farming on good land.”
Haldimand County supports the energy projects, but Mayor Marie Trainer said it has been left out of the loop on ORC’s actions. “The county does not have any say in this,” she said.
A Samsung official did not respond to e-mails seeking comments.