DELHI – An ambitious move is afoot to organize tobacco farmers into a wind-energy co-operative.
The campaign kicked off Saturday with a well-attended information open house at the Hungarian Hall in Delhi.
The gathering was sponsored by Farmers for Economic Opportunity, a spin-off group of Tobacco Farmers In Crisis. In partnership with Allus Power Inc. of London, FEO is attempting to assemble at least 5,000 acres of farmland with high-quality wind resources.
FEO is attempting to get as many tobacco farmers as possible to sign a contract stating they will not negotiate their wind rights with any other organization for at least 12 months. FEO plans to take the year to negotiate a wind-farm profit-sharing arrangement with Allus.
“I believe we can come up with something that will be hard to turn down,” said FEO organizer Jon Lechowicz of Burford. “There’s money in energy. That’s why Exxon is pulling down a billion dollars a day. This could be a model for the rest of Canada. The potential could be limitless.”
Allus has recruited former federal Liberal cabinet minister Joe Fontana as its manager of government relations and international business development. He told the 50 in attendance that the proposed partnership could head in any number of directions. While the focus is on wind energy, the partnership could branch out to include other sources of clean electricity. These include biomass, solar and natural gas.
“We’re courting for 12 months to determine if we want to get married,” Fontana told the crowd. “We have a lot to sort out.”
AIM PowerGen of Toronto recently erected 66 wind turbines along the north shore of Lake Erie in southwest Norfolk and Elgin County. However, FEO organizer Ken Tota of Burford says recent advances in technology are making inland wind attractive for power generation.
Tota said the co-operative model is more attractive than the lease arrangement many farmers have entered into with firms like AIM PowerGen. Hard numbers are not available, but Allus and FEO officials gave assurances that it is much more profitable than a $5,000 per year royalty on each turbine. Tota noted that the co-operative approach to wind farms is standard in Europe.
FEO has till March 31 to secure commitments from interested farmers. If sufficient land isn’t assembled, the proposal dies. Allus would like to install 60-metre test turbines as soon as possible. Allus technician Chris Angus says the company needs a year’s worth of wind data to determine if a specific location is suitable for a $2-million turbine.
If interest is sufficient and enough wind is available, Allus would seek permission from Queen’s Park to tap into the provincial grid. Allus would also pursue the necessary zoning approvals.
“That’s why we need the expertise of a group like Allus,” Tota said. “We’re just farmers.”
Allus operates a wind farm near Tilbury.
By Monte Sonnenberg
19 March 2007
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