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Wind-turbine deals leave some landowners uneasy

BROKEN BOW, Neb. – Landowners who receive royalty checks for having wind turbines on their land aren’t without their own concerns.

When Sempra U.S. Gas & Power completes development of Broken Bow II later this year, rancher Dave Haumont estimated he’ll be leasing out at least 15 turbine sites across his 6,100 acres.

Haumont said the deal was simply too good to pass up. And if he didn’t accept the offer, neighbors would have. Either way, he’d be stuck in the middle.

“If money and bankers were not part of my problem every day – if it was just coming in easy – I probably would have said ‘No, I don’t need these out here,’ ” Haumont said. “But it could save our ranch – or, at least, make it a little bit easier.”

He and son Matt, who works the ranch with him, worry about the length of the contracts: 20 years, with two 10-year options. It’s essentially a 40-year deal, Matt Haumont said, and there’s still a lot of uncertainty – about the country’s energy needs, about the technology, about the slew of different companies involved.

“You’re signing something that’s going to have a direct impact on the next generations to come,” Matt said.

“You know, wind energy is pretty new. You hear all these stories about how it changes the weather patterns and things like that. I don’t know that I believe all that,” he said, “but on the other hand, it’s so new, and you’re pioneering on it, so that’s probably the biggest uncertainty.”

The ranchers also worry about the rights to privacy and property they have given up. Sempra U.S. Gas & Power now has total access to their land. While they stress the courtesy and professionalism of the construction crews, the ranchers would prefer the rights they had before to say “Keep out.”

“We’ll have strangers driving on us forever,” Dave Haumont said.

He’s careful not to sound too negative. It’s not all bad, he said. The money’s nothing to shrug off, both personally and for the community. And he said Sempra U.S. Gas & Power “has been a real pleasure to work with.”

According to Jamie Gray, Broken Bow II project manager, Sempra schedules regular landowner meetings and has hired a full-time employee dedicated solely to landowner relations.

“We’re going to be residents there for a long time – neighbors for the community,” Gray said. “So we want to make sure that we step into this thing on the right foot.”

More important, Dave Haumont said, as the federal government further regulates fossil fuel-based energy sources, renewable developments like those in Broken Bow become more necessary all the time.

“I don’t know about you, but I kind of like it when I turn the switch and the lights come on,” he said. “We all want to drive our cars around, and we all want to have electricity. If we want them things, we’re going to have to do some of this stuff.”