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Landowners need to be very cautious . . . with wind and solar lease promises

Windmill and solar farm projects are back in the news as the NDP government marches on with its plan to save the world.

AHEAD OF THE HEARD -- Windmill and solar farm projects are back in the news as the NDP government marches on with its plan to save the world. Part of that process has seen the Alberta Electric System Operator, the government agency charged with meeting the goal of 30 per cent renewable energy for the province, requesting formal interest from companies willing to supply such energy. I suspect interest will be keen, particularly from companies with experience in fleecing and scamming the Ontario government and consumers with costly subsidized renewable energy schemes. Billions have been invested in inefficient wind and solar projects built across Ontario, all of it propped up by outrageously high levels of taxpayer subsidies and Ontario consumers paying the highest electricity rates in North America.

It should be mentioned that all of that effort and financial pain has not changed the level of emissions in Canada by a discernible smidgeon. All the millions that will soon be similarly spent by the Alberta government on green subsidies, and increased electricity rates for consumers will also have a negligible impact on reducing national emission levels. But you probably knew that already. In addition to enriching the profits of cunning renewable energy companies (REC), there will be money-making opportunities for some Alberta landowners.

RECs have already put out letters of interest to some landowners to increase wind and solar sites in anticipation of lucrative government subsidized contracts for more renewable energy. Alberta already has a well-developed windmill farm business with hundreds of mills located on dozens of sites across Alberta. The evolution of contractual arrangements between the RECs and landowners goes back over 40 years and a whole sub-industry of consultants and lawyers has developed to provide and act on such contracts.

But that doesn’t help the naïve land owner who is being promised seemingly rich lease payments, but doesn’t have even basic information on how these schemes work or on any possible negative consequences. Fortunately, the Farmers Advocate Office (FAO) has jumped into the gap and created a document that provides that information to landowners including all the points that need to be considered before signing a long-term contract. The FAO has also been carrying out numerous lease information meetings across the province. I suspect to the chagrin of the RECs who would prefer to have the information advantage over potential clients. I expect the FAO has learned from decades of dealing with oil and gas industry land access complaints and wants landowners to be aware of the benefits and pitfalls of dealing with this new land-lease player.

There is one obvious concern with the anticipated bonanza of renewable energy contracts that the NDP government is expected to soon issue that the FAO cannot formally warn landowners about. That being what happens if the present NDP government is replaced with a new government that is opposed to a highly subsidized renewable energy industry? Sure, there may be contracts in place, but that didn’t stop the present government from breaking contracts with companies that provide electricity by means of coal-fired plants. The legal process would be to provide compensation to RECs in such a situation, and I expect that would leave landowners holding the bag and stuck with potentially abandoned windmills and solar panel sites.

Landowners should insist that a bond be posted that would cover the removal and rehabilitation of renewable energy sites in case of bankruptcy or abandonment. Surely we have learned from what has occurred with some oil and gas well sites that were abandoned in the past. There also needs to be contractual consequences regarding non-payment of land lease fees. Many contracts are based on a flat base rate for the land plus a royalty on actual electricity generated. REC propaganda rarely mentions that windmills only generate energy 30 per cent of the time and solar farms even less so what if a future government decides to accept only half of the contracted renewable energy? Landowners could be in for a rude awakening plus they could be stuck with paying the property taxes. All of this has happened with oil and gas site leases.

One suggestion I have when considering REC contracts why not demand that free electricity be provided to the landowner from what is being generated on their property? It’s the least that can be offered for the eyesores and nuisance that landowners and their neighbours will have to endure from these monstrosities, not to mention the loss of productive land.