On Thursday, farmers who bought a wind turbine from Renewable Energy in Excelsior saw a victory in court when a judge ordered the company to temporary halt future sales and open its financial books.
They were promised a deal that was “too good to turn down” – a wind turbine that would make them energy-independent and produce enough power to make some extra cash; however, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson says those deals turned out be duds that left many in a financial distress.
Jim and Barb Balfe say their farm in Kilkenny is perfectly situated to produce wind energy.
“You can see the wind blows out here,” Jim Balfe said. “That’s why we decided to do this, and it backfired on us.”
In November 2012, the Balfes bought their wind turbine from Renewable Energy – but the tower for the turbine didn’t go up until last summer. At the time, Balfe thought he would finally start benefiting from it soon. Now, he and his wife cannot believe the tower is still standing idle because no turbine means no income.
“It’s like every day, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Barb Balfe said. “One day, they’ll say, ‘It’s coming.’ Then , the next, ‘Oh no, sorry. Wrong. I wasn’t supposed to call you.'”
The investment that was supposed to bring in $15-20,000 a month has been costly. The loan totaled more than $121,000. Add interest and no income, and that’s a huge financial frustration.
“I thought it was a good idea at the beginning,” Barb Balfe said. “Now, I’m wondering. It’s like hey can’t come through and I don’t know what to do.”
More than 40 farmers have made similar complaints to the attorney general. On Thursday, the court ordered the company to temporarily stop selling wind turbines to new customers while they settle their old sales.
“The last thing we want to see is a whole boatload of new people signing up and being treated the same as the old people were treated,” Swanson said.
For farmers like the Balfes, the order marks a positive step in the right direction because they still want the company to succeed.
“They need to service the customers they have before they get any new ones, and I don’t know anyone that would want to buy one from them knowing what they are doing to us,” Barb Balfe said.
The judge’s order will also require the company to provide financial records so that Swanson’s office can determine how much money was brought in and where it went.
“Part of this accounting that the court is ordering will give us a good picture of how many people there actually are out there,” Swanson explained.
FOX 9 News attempted to contact the owner of Renewable Energy and his attorney, but messages were not returned.
The next hearing is set for mid-April.
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