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Wind farm opponents in Russell County

RUSSELL – Opponents to wind turbines met in Russell on Fri., June 19, to present arguments against wind farm operations and deliver warnings to the public and those people who may be near proposed wind farms.

Speakers were Philip Mayr, dairy farmer and president of the Prescott-Russell Landowners Association; Tom Black, president of the Ontario Landowners Association; Conservative MPP Jack MacLaren; Elizabeth Marshall of the Landowners Association; and local resident Beth Trudeau.

Opponents had several areas of concern, including whether lease agreements with wind farm corporations could negatively affect title on lands, which was the focus of the Friday meeting. The Landowners Association takes the position that encumbrances on title, which are placed there by the wind power companies, will affect future financing, mortgaging or selling of land. All speakers there, however, said they were not lawyers and were not giving legal advice, but Marshall claimed an understanding of the law, particularly the Green Energy Act and Electricity Act, which seems to be the core of the problem from the Landowners’ perspective.

There is considerable confusion about the actual effects of wind turbines. Health problems have been cited as concerns for those living near turbines, but have been largely ignored. When MacLaren decried the Endangered Species Act as a hindrance to the business of farming, some of the audience stated they were conservationists and their concerns were about the effects on birds, especially in migratory flyways, and bats. MacLaren countered that he too was a conservationist because he was a farmer, and in the next breath spoke of how trying to use the Endangered Species Act against wind turbines had not worked.

MacLaren and Marshall were particularly outspoken about the Green Energy Act, a provincial act which allows renewable energy projects to trump other land uses in Ontario. The Act has been frequently criticized in the past, using examples such as a forested wetland near Perth which was clear cut and drained for a solar farm, which does not seem to be a “green” land use.

Speakers at the meeting complained that the high price of Ontario electrical power is due to subsidies paid out to wind and solar farms – although in private conversations some audience members mentioned other areas of mismanagement with Ontario Hydro which were contributing factors.

MacLaren also talked about wind farms placing neighbour against neighbour in southern Ontario, because some had turbines and some didn’t. He placed blame squarely on the Liberal government, then proceeded to discuss the provincial PC’s election strategies for most of his time at the podium.

Besides politics, the issue of encumbrances placed by wind farm companies on title was the main point raised at this meeting and is a new angle for opponents. The AgriNews contacted a well-known lawyer who specializes in farm-related laws, Donald Good, and asked what he thought of encumbrances protecting the lease on title. His response was that any agreements made with wind farm companies should be first vetted by a lawyer, and not just any lawyer, but a lawyer with significant experience in both land leases and in farm operations. Generally, however, leases which are protected by an encumbrance do not hinder the sale of land or borrowing against land, and they are often seen as an asset by lenders, because they represent revenue and future revenue on the land.

There are exceptions, however. From copies of title produced by the Landowners and forwarded to The AgriNews, it appears that there have been instances of agreements which benefited wind proponents and left landowners in a vulnerable position, as well as a case of a construction lien placed on properties after the wind company did not pay the contractor within a 45-day period. Opponents are also upset by some of the wind companies’ high-handed behaviour, alleged bullying tactics, and secret meetings resulting in non-disclosure agreements – which are always a red flag.

After the meeting AgriNews asked Ron Barr, a Russell resident who emceed the meeting, if he was concerned that by advising the public not to become involved with wind turbines, opponents might be denying landowners the opportunity to enjoy revenues in the future. He agreed that was an issue worth further consideration. Leasing land for turbines, similar to oil/gas and pipeline leases in western Canada and southern Ontario, can provide substantial lease income, if the agreement between the farmer/landowner and corporation is an equitable one. Hence the need for an experienced lawyer.