AUSTIN – A bill heard Wednesday in the Texas House, spearheaded by an Abilene lawmaker, would help landowners avoid raw deals from power generation companies by requiring greater transparency in contracts between landowners and companies that lease the land to put up wind turbines.
The proposed law could let landowners access records that reveal why payments owed to them are priced as they are, and let them know they can be part of insurance plans.
The bill, HB 3168, comes from state Rep. Susan King, R-Abilene, who told the committee she has wind towers on her property.
“I’m not for more government. I’m not for more regulation. I’m for protection of landowners,“ King said.
Three people who own Nolan County land that hosts wind power installations testified that they want access to information about why the rates of compensation they receive from the power companies change.
John Clark said his royalties had decreased by about half over the course of several years.
“It’s not whining about the size of my check coming in the mailbox,” Clark said. “I don’t know why that number is being created the way it is.”
Clark argued lack of transparency might discourage people from taking deals to let wind com
panies use their land.
King said the law wouldn’t change contracts. An earlier version of the bill that included a Wind Energy Generation Landowner Bill of Rights had been removed, although the bill introduced Wednesday would still require that the person entering the contract know what factors into the payments received.
“We’re opposed to it as written,” Jeff Clark, executive director of The Wind Coalition lobbying group based in Austin, said of an earlier version of the bill. He hadn’t had time to examine a new version of the bill that circulated the committee during the hearing.
Jeff Clark said most landowners are happy with their relationships with wind companies, and others clamber to get on board with having towers on their land.
The unhappy group from King’s district was an “anomaly,” he said.
King said the state could fix problems before they arise. She said the landowners with problems have no state agency to appeal to, and no one to call except attorneys.
Under the new law, the Office of the Texas Attorney General would enforce the provision, King said. Otherwise, the AG office isn’t involved with the bill.
Cyrus Reed, with the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, expressed sympathy about the difficulty of disclosing rates.
“It is very variable,” Reed said.
Jeff Clark said comparisons to eminent domain aren’t accurate because that involves working out contracts between the government and private individuals. Government involvement in private contracts should reach a higher threshold, he said.
The bill overall is a consumer protection piece, King said.
Janet Ussery had come from King’s district on the issue and she said the contract “was kind of like a marriage to us. … We’re intelligent people that signed what we thought to be truthful.”
The bill was left pending in the committee.
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