by Harvey Wrightman
I had a quick read of the recently published paper, part of a continuing project-thesis series for students in a graduate program at Western overseen by Dr. Jamie Baxter. I gather that Baxter originally viewed wind projects as a benign source of green energy and didn’t anticipate the more complex problems of the projects. I think most of us started from a similar position. Baxter’s students attended some of the open house ‘sessions’ put on by the wind companies in Adelaide-Metcalfe. We were there also and you can imagine the fireworks that transpired. It was eye-opening for the students, that’s for sure. While I hardly think we need academic research into the cause of the resistance to wind projects, it may be a good idea to get it down formally somehow. I can’t write a peer-review; but, I can tell him how to make the process logical and fair. First, they must ditch the idea of bringing everyone (community, wind developers, government) together, providing them tools for discussion, and making some sort of consensus decision. This is just utopian BS that will please the wind fraudsters and fail the people who are sentenced to live there. You have to get the tools to the individuals, who will be targeted by the landmen, AND their neighbours. Wind companies don’t need any help.
It hardly matters how people rationalize or perceive their real-estate position once a wind project arrives, the over-riding fact is that it is an industrial development and such developments have impacts on all of the properties – lots of negative factors for everyone to share in. In the west Middlesex and north Lambton projects what is very interesting is that many of the large farm operators have refused to sign. A family member of one such operation said to a wind company rep, “What you’re offering is not enough for what we’re giving up. Double your offer and we’ll negotiate.” This came at 3 AM after a night of discussions. No contract was signed. Wind reps left with empty pockets and groggy, sore heads. There’s a big empty space along 402 west of Strathroy that the wind companies badly wanted, but did not get. This is repeated elsewhere in Middlesex and Lambton.
I only wish more farmers had been able to figure it out so clearly before it was too late.
So, lacking that sort of common sense on a community level, I have 2 recommendations:
- Treat the wind companies like the franchise companies – where any contract signed between company and franchisee must have written independent legal advice (ILA) provided to the franchisee – think about who runs all those variety stores and puts in ungodly hours of time – immigrants who may have left very repressive regimes and are not inclined to buck the system here. Wind companies employ big city lawyers who write draconian 50+ page leases that are all in their favour. Then they get unlicensed, unregulated ‘persons’ – euphemistically called ‘landmen’ – who are trained in the ‘art’ of hard-sell, and set lose these mercenaries on rural residents who are not skilled enough to properly read and understand what they are pressured to sign. Wind contracts always container an exemption for the ‘Family Law Act’, otherwise an ILA would be needed.This issue arose in the OEB hearing into the Nextera-Bornish/Adelaide/Jericho transmission line. Curiously the land sale for the substation (~20 acres) had to have an ILA and it was filed as evidence in the OEB hearing. We argued that the same terms should apply to the property easements they needed for the line as they are signed in perpetuity. But Nextera protested and the OEB basically said, “Don’t worry, we won’t make you do that.”
- Now, I have to hold my nose when I say this, but if public policy demands that wind projects be built (and that’s what the GEA is all about), then unsigned residents in the area are effectively having their amenity taken away and that means a diminution of property value. So, we have a process for expropriation. It provides for independent property appraisal and stipulates that the subject owner of the property must be made ‘whole’ again – a fancy way of saying that not only shall fair and just value for the property be established, but damages (moving, etc.) must be considered and appraised by the same independent appraiser. It’s not a pretty process, but it’s a whole lot better than “Good-bye and go to hell,” which is all we hear from the wind companies or the government now.
From the text of the study, it sounds like the interview base is not broad enough. It also falls into the trap of characterizing people as “new” or “old” to the area. This is another way of stereotyping people as rural (farmer) or urban (NIMBY). It just isn’t that simple. Many of the small lot owners are from local families – therein is the source of tension. It’s not necessarily a matter of ruralness. Also, the main property devaluation effect will be to the severed lots and the farm properties that are less suitable for cropping. Good workable land is still in high demand, turbines or not, though I would say there is a better and growing market for land that is not encumbered with a lease. Wind leases bring with them a very nasty tenant who can do what he wants when he wants and you can’t evict him. Leaseholders have found that out.
I’m left wondering about the solutions Baxter et al are seeking to the wind project strife – like suggesting better dialogue on a larger, community level (oh God, not more kindergarten open houses). They also make mention of ‘tool kits’ for both the wind companies and community members. I don’t know what more ‘tools’ the wind companies need. They write leases that give them absolute control of the land. From the unsigned residents they expropriate their amenity and devalue their properties. The local councils are powerless to regulate their activities. The appeal process is biased and corrupt. It’s pretty clear to people living in the townships that the system is insurmountably stacked against them.
It all comes down to this: if a landowner unwittingly signs a shitty contract, his neighbours lose too. Everyone loses.
THAT’S WHY THE LANDOWNERS NEED COMPETENT LEGAL ADVICE BEFORE THE LEASES ARE SIGNED.
Also, see John Droz Jr.’s recent compilation of 40+ concerns about signing wind leases. Share with your neighbours.