Landowners should be cautious and seek legal advice when approached by energy companies wanting to put wind turbines on landowners’ property, a speaker at the Future of Kansas Wind Conference said.
Mike Irvin, an attorney for the Kansas Farm Bureau Legal Foundation who spoke Tuesday at the fourth wind conference at the Scott County Fairgrounds, said energy companies aren’t bad, but landowners must be aware of contracts and agreements before signing them.
Irvin told about 100 people at the conference at the Scott City Fairgrounds that he knows farmers are independent people who might not want to discuss land issues with other farmers or attorneys.
“Landowners and attorneys need to work together,” Irvin said. “More people have more power. Put the independence away and consult attorneys.”
Many landowners in Kansas are getting knocks on their doors from wind farm company representatives, Irvin said. And property owners sometimes aren’t sure what to think of the sometimes 60-page contracts. Irvin said the wind conference is aimed at getting landowners familiar with contract terms and what the wind farm companies want.
“The more we can educate the farmers and ranchers, I think the better decisions they’ll make as they get ready to enter into these potential long-term agreements,” Irvin said. “It’s really our job to do everything we can to get them up to speed so they make good decisions.”
Robert Dearden, a Scott City resident who has land in southeast Scott County, brought such a contract to the conference.
“I like the idea of wind power, but I’m not sure about all the contracts,” he said. “I want to know as much as possible so I can hopefully make a good judgment.”
Irvin’s legal advice regarding how to deal with wind farm companies is what attracted most people to the conference.
“He told you more about how to protect yourself and try not to be taken advantage of,” Dearden said.
John Cyr, program manager for the North Central Regional Planning Commission, based in Beloit, said the goal of the day was to help farmers.
“People simply don’t understand the terminology. They don’t know how it goes together, and they don’t know how to apply it. Basically, we have to begin to show them how to do that,” Cyr said.
Charles Miller, the economic developer for Lane County, said, “To most people, it’s a new body of knowledge that they have to make heads and tails of.”
Four speakers spoke about a range of topics from financing wind projects, wind projects and policies, and from a Westar employee about maintaining a wind farm. The afternoon speaker, Irvin, spent time talking about what landowners wanted to know most about: money.
He told landowners to view energy companies not as enemies, but as business partners.
He outlined the lifetime of a wind farm in four parts: The pre-development stage, the lease and construction stage, the operation stage, and the remedial stage where the wind farm is decommissioned.
The third stage, the operation stage, could last from 20 to 150 years. Irvin said.
“This is a long-term venture. It’s going to affect your kids, great grand-kids and their kids,” Irvin said.
He also urged landowners to make sure the energy companies pay for everything associated with the wind turbine, including transmission lines and roads.
“If you’re going to take something from me, pay me for it,” Irving said.
Irvin outlined the different ways landowners can be compensated for wind energy, including: an up-front, lump sum payment; annual rental payments per turbine, per megawatt or per acre basis; and royalty payments based on a percentage of the revenue of the project.
Irvin said land owners should think twice about receiving a lump-sum payment per turbine, because inflation and the cost of living likely will rise.
But Irvin also cautioned that turbines, like vehicles, need maintenance. He said if a turbine needs maintenance and isn’t generating revenue, royalty payments won’t mean much.
“I’d like to see a royalty mixed with a lump sum payment,” Irvin said. “Protect yourselves.”
The last speaker was Dan Nagengast with the Kansas Rural Center. He said the four wind conferences have helped educate landowners in the state. The previous three have been at Phllipsburg, Kingman and Colby. Another one is being planned for Meade.
“There’s a lot of interest and a lot of pressure. Everybody recognizes that something’s up with wind energy in Kansas,” Nagengast said. “Everybody’s got guys knocking on their door.”
By Monica Springer
11 June 2008
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