What’s in that wind turbine contract?
[The following article by Garth Manning, Chair of CCSAGE, on the dangers inherent in signing wind company turbine agreements, is directed at farmers and other landowners. It is due to appear in the current Eastern and Western Ontario editions of Farmers Forum, which describes itself as the largest newspaper in Ontario directed at farmers, with a total circulation of 34,500 papers and more than 70,000 readers.]
You could be giving up the right to your land for longer than you are alive.
Wind companies operating in Ontario are frequently owned outside Canada, and are not interested in “saving the planet for our grandchildren” or “curing climate change” as those weary clichés would have you believe. Rather, they’re only after the biggest possible profits guaranteed over a period of from 21 to 40 years by our provincial government using the proceeds of Ontario residents’ constantly increasing hydro bills and taxes.
So what do you do when the wind company wants you to sign a contract? The land owner must first decide for him/herself whether there’s any truth in the now widely accepted beliefs that industrial machines, taller than the Ottawa Peace Tower and as tall as the London Eye, can cause health problems, reduce property values, adversely affect local economies, provide few jobs, kill birds and bats in unacceptable numbers, devastate rural Ontario and disrupt communities. If you can get past that, you have to accept that wind power is not even required at all in an economy with an excess of electricity, some of which is virtually given away to neighbouring provinces and states on a regular basis.
The “gifts” the wind company salesmen bear while dangling the sugar plum of additional (taxable) income, include more than 30 pages of legal documents, which they urge you to sign. In a word…DON’T. They are prepared by large, expensive, law firms to protect wind companies, not you. Have them reviewed by your own lawyer and insist that the wind company reimburse you for the legal fee. Then make your own informed decisions.
There is no such thing as a standard form of contract used by wind companies – they’re all different in detail but usually consist of an option agreement and a stringent form of lease (which you will have to sign without change if the wind company decides to go ahead).
To protect yourself, your lawyer and you should consider and discuss a long list of valid concerns. Here are some examples.
You could be virtually handing over control of your property and the way you normally use it for a period of time extending beyond your own life expectancy. The wind company can get out of the contract but you can’t. Turbine(s) can be sited where they, not you, want it or them. Ditto for the access roads to the turbine(s). You should discuss how your mortgage and insurance coverages might be affected. The period of construction will entail the presence of heavy machinery and considerable upheaval to your normal daily life. This could be repeated after about 21 years if the wind company decides to build bigger turbines to replace the old ones. You may find it difficult to sell, or raise money on, your property. There’s no guarantee that the wind company will follow up on its promise to make good all damage caused by construction, for which you should require a major cash deposit, irrevocable letter of credit or bond. Ditto for its promise to remove the turbine(s) and make good your land.
There’s more…the wind company can escape its obligations by assigning the contract to anyone, including an anonymous numbered company, without assets, which could avoid removing the turbines(s) and making good the land. Without the proper financial protection, you might find yourself responsible 20 or 40 years from now for demolishing the turbine(s) at immense personal cost.
You might also be asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement restricting your right to communicate publicly what you have learned from your dealings with the wind company. You could be required to give legal permission for the turbine(s) to cause flicker, noise, turbulence and general unpleasantness, thus giving up any right to sue should you or your family suffer any health or financial problems from the turbine(s). You could be sued by neighbours for knowingly contributing to diminished value or unsaleability of their property because of the presence of the turbine(s) on your land. You may be left with massive concrete foundations and other sub-surface installations on your lands.
You owe it to yourself, your family and your community to consider and act on these concerns before you sign a contract.
Garth Manning is a retired lawyer living in Prince Edward County. This article is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice.