LAMBTON SHORES – Jim thought it would be a great way to secure the future of his family farm, but now the land lease he signed with Suncor Energy is making him feel anything but secure.
The Lambton Shores man, who asked us to protect his identity, is in the middle of Suncor’s Cedar Point industrial wind farm. The company wants to erect 62 turbines – half of those in Lambton Shores – to generate power. Not far from Jim’s farm, NextEra is preparing to build an industrial wind farm with 92 turbines.
Jim signed the land lease with Suncor nearly five years ago – long before he had researched any of the potential problems which people who live near the turbines are reporting. For him, it was a way to keep his family farm afloat.
“I said, ‘Well, to secure this for my grandchildren I’ll put that windmill on it. I don’t have to worry about the farm because the taxes will be paid for me.’”
Jim and several other landowners in Lambton Shores are coming close to a deadline in the leases which would allow them to opt out of the contract. Jim has decided not to sign on again saying the turbines “are unsafe, they’re not green and they’re going to bankrupt the province.”
But Suncor and NextEra are now swapping land leases and farmers like Jim are feeling the pressure to sign extensions to those deals are hoping to abandon.
Sarnia Lambton This Week has obtained a letter from Suncor Energy which explained the land lease swap to the landowners.
“Jericho and Suncor, by virtue of a Land Swap Agreement, have agreed to separate their projects and thereby maximize efficiency through an exchange of interests in certain optioned lands. Accordingly, certain lands that are currently held under option by Jericho will become part of Suncor’s renewable energy project and certain lands that are currently held under option by Suncor will become part of Jericho’s renewable energy project,” writes Chris Moger, surface landman for Suncor. “We believe that this exchange is in the best interest of both projects and all landowners participating in those projects.”
Marcelle Brooks of Middlesex Lambton Wind Concerns isn’t surprised by the move. “Quite a while ago, there was a free for all going on” as companies tried to option land from local farmers. “There really was not a plan in place…it was like whoever had the most leases in place was the winner – it was like Monopoly…you buy up everything.”
Michael Southern with Suncor wouldn’t speak about the leaseholder agreements, saying they were confidential. But he did confirm NextEra and Suncor have swapped some of the leases. “It’s really just part of normal business agreements that happen from time to time to develop the best wind power project that we can.”
Brooks speculates the companies are trying to reorganize to make their projects efficient. And they are turning to the leaseholders whose options with the companies are about to expire to extend them.
The Suncor letter says the companies agents will be visiting the leaseholders to talk about the changes.
Brooks has been getting calls from those farmers owning the leases who say the agents offered them $5,000 cash to sign a new two-year lease with NextEra.
Jim and his neighbours have all had visitors. Jim has “politely” told the three company officials who came to his farm that he’s not interested in resigning. He was pretty sure his neighbours were with him. One had visited Essex County to see the giant turbines and decided he wasn’t interested in being surrounded. Jim says when the landowners signed the leases they had no idea “the scope of the project.”
Jim turned away Suncor and NextEra officials, but the neighbours he thought were going to do the same are wavering. Jim was offered a $5,000 signing bonus. Just a week later, another neighbour was offered a $15,000 signing bonus and was told the companies “would come and rid the tractor with him until he signed it.”
Wind Concerns is urging landowners to talk to a lawyer before signing anything – something Brooks says most of the farmers are doing.
Brooks adds the new NextEra leases contain clauses which restrict the landowners severely forcing them to give up the right to complain about vibrations, sound of any kind – some of the major concerns with wind turbines.
“I am hopeful that they will not sign (a two-year deal with NextEra),” says Brooks. “It would be a profound victory for our community. It would go so far, such a long way to letting the NextEras and the Suncors, the provincial governments and municipal governments that we do not want these projects in our area.”
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