A panel of government experts from the Farmers’ Advocate Office and Alberta Utilities Commission met with about 40 landowners at the Cypress County office Thursday night to discuss the pros and cons of negotiating leases with renewable energy companies.
FAO energy, utilities and policy specialist Michele Del Colle and AUC director of external affairs Jim Law fielded questions on everything from contract negotiations, right-of-entry and end-of-life reclamation at the public session.
Del Colle said the big thing for landowners to keep in mind is they are not playing under the same rules as oil and gas.
“I can tell you it is a totally different playing field,” she said.
Some of those differences include:
— The rules, protections and guarantees of the Surface Rights Act do not apply to renewable energy companies. If a company fails to live up to its obligations, legal action is the only recourse.
— Renewable energy companies also do not have to employ licenced land agents. There is no equivalent to the oil and gas industry’s Orphan Wells fund if a renewable energy company goes bust.
— The Alberta Energy Regulator’s Licencing Liability Ratio, which ensures oil and gas companies are fiscally sound before granting licences, does not apply.
See Landowners, Page A2
On the pro side, said Del Colle, there is no standard contract, leaving landowners with a lot of leeway in their negotiations. These renewable energy projects are also 100 per cent voluntary, unlike oil and gas. There is also an undeniable, financial benefit involved.
“One of the key messages we really want to talk to you about is when you are approached as a landowner to put in a power plant, either a wind farm or solar farm, it’s a voluntary participation … You can actually say no. We are not telling you to say no; what we are saying is this is something where you have to collect information, ask questions, get legal advice and make an informed decision as to what is going to suit you best.”
“A word of caution on that point though,” she added. “If you don’t accept the project, it might show up adjacent to you … So you might end up having the impact but not the financial rewards.”
AUC rep. Jim Law explained further.
“The power plant includes the actual turbine, some of the wires that go under the ground and a substation. But it has to connect with something,” stressed Law. “It has to connect either to the distribution system or it has to connect to a transmission line … You don’t have the same right of refusal there … You have the absolute right to refuse to put the power plant on your land, but the connection for that is different.”
He went on to explain the AUC would decide which lands those lines would cross, and they would fall under the compensation guidelines of the Surface Rights Act.
Del Colle said that’s why it is crucial to contact your neighbours before you agree to anything. She pointed out there were no do-overs once an agreement is signed.
“When you are having these conversations, you are going to be dealing with the entire life cycle of this project … Those are the negotiations you are going to have to have. This is not covered by the Surface Rights Act; you only get one negotiation. One negotiation for the next 30-60 years, so you have to do it right.”
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