Who pays for wind turbine teardown? Not clear, says lawyer
“No pocket you can go to in 20 years”: Environmental lawyer says taxpayers and landowners could be responsible for costs
Farmersforum.com , January 2016
By Brandy Harrison
Toronto- With more wind turbines coming to Eastern Ontario, there has been a lot of talk about what happens when it comes time to take down the towers. While the provincial government may put the onus on wind project developers to pay for teardown, it’s far from certain they’ll be able to collect if a company goes bankrupt — which could mean taxpayers are on the hook, says a Toronto-based environment and municipal lawyer.
“Many of these companies are relatively small, or based outside of Canada, and that creates what appears to be a real risk as there will be no pocket you can go to 20 years from now when a cleanup is actually required,” says Eric Gillespie, who has represented landowners and municipalities with wind turbine concerns.
It’s anybody’s guess who would end up paying for decommissioning — the landowner, the municipality, or provincial taxpayers, he says.
Farmers shouldn’t underestimate what it takes to remove a single turbine, Gillespie warns. The nacelle — the central hub containing the generator — is 80 to 100 metres in the air and weighs as much as 70 tonnes. “It’s not something where you just call your neighbor and ask him to bring his tractor over.”
While Ontario costs are yet unknown, world-wide decommissioning has ranged from $30,000 to $80,000 per turbine.
But the worst case scenario can be avoided if funds are set aside as part of the approval process, suggests Gillespie.
Decommissioning plans are required to get renewable energy approval but they don’t have financial strings attached.
There is already a good model in place, says Gillespie. Under the Environmental Protection Act, the government will ask for financial assurance if there is a risk of adverse effects that could require remedial work. A letter of credit or security is required up front.
“Anything other than that might keep lawyers busy for a long time but won’t help communities. It’s about addressing the issue now rather than waiting for the end and crossing your fingers. It should be the companies that are earning the profits that have to pay the bill.”
Land owners need to be socially responsible when deciding to sign leases for wind turbines, Wind Concerns Ontario tells Ontario Federation of Agriculture president
The following is a letter sent by Wind Concerns Ontario president Jane Wilson to OFA president Don McCabe, in response to remarks made by Mr. McCabe at a wind farm information meeting in Finch, Ontario. Several of Mr. McCabe’s comments to the audience, such as that there is no surplus of power in Ontario, were not correct, WCO said in the letter.
As well, while Mr. McCabe’s advice to landowners to “get a lawyer” is sound, Wilson said, the attitude that landowners need to concentrate only on getting everything they want in a lease is isolationist and archaic, and is helping to divide Ontario’s rural and small-town communities.
“Not one word was said about responsibility to community, and neighbours. This [attitude] does not represent the view of the contemporary and socially responsible farm operators that we work with; they are professionals who believe they are part of their communities and who are aware of—or at least consider—the effects of their actions on others,” Wilson said.
The letter was sent to Mr. McCabe, and the Board of Directors for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.
Dear Mr. McCabe:
It was interesting to meet you last week in Finch, Ontario at the Lions’ Club event, where we both spoke, along with Mr. Levy of CanWEA.
I was relieved to hear your strong advice to those attending and contemplating signing a lease with a wind power developer, to “get a lawyer, get a lawyer, get a lawyer.” This is excellent advice: as you know, these contracts typically contain dozens of pages of various clauses outlining requirements and limitations…many people do not understand what they are being asked to sign.
I was disappointed, however, in other aspects of your presentation. First, there were a couple of statements made that are not correct and may even be misleading.
Power surplus in Ontario: in my presentation I had suggested that more wind power projects were not necessary, especially not for a form of power generation that is intermittent, produced out-of-phase with demand and is expensive, causing Ontario electricity rates to rise. You countered by saying that Ontario has no surplus of power. This is not correct: the Ontario Energy Minister himself admits that Ontario has surplus power and also says that the province will have a surplus for years to come. See his quotes and the forecast for power rates in a Globe and Mail article here.
“Net metering”: you told the audience that they should arrange in their lease to share in the wind power produced by any turbines on their land. This is not correct—it is unlikely one could get power from the wind turbine on a farm, and moreover, it would be in violation of the contract the wind power developer has with the Ontario government to obtain the Feed In Tariff to do that.
Turbine noise: you suggested to the audience that if the noise from turbines were to bother them, they could make sure that there is a clause in the lease so that the power developer would have to address that. This is extremely unlikely; at present, there are thousands of noise complaints in Ontario that go unresolved by either the developer or the Ministry of the Environment.
Community input to power projects: In response to several questions from the floor, you did advise people to go to the government website on the new Large Renewable Power Request for Proposal process, but you also suggested to at least one audience member that there is nothing communities can do, if a power proposal comes forward. That is not correct: people can work with their municipal governments, members of their community, and also choose not to sign the agreement required of adjacent property owners.
Contracts: I believe you also suggested to a farm owner who had signed a contract/option and was now having second thoughts that there was nothing he could do. This also is not correct, and would have been another opportunity for you to advise him to “get a lawyer, get a lawyer, get a lawyer.”
That brings me to the second area of disappointment in your presentation: the overarching theme of your remarks was that if people are going to sign a lease for a wind turbine project they should make certain that they get concessions from the power developer that benefit them. There was not a single mention in your remarks of the need for responsible consideration of other members of one’s community, including fellow farm operators, and neighbours.
This was a very narrow view that demonstrates no balance and instead indicates an archaic, “I can do whatever I want on my land” view. This does not represent the view of the contemporary and socially responsible farm operators that we work with; they are professionals who believe they are part of their communities and who are aware of—or at least consider—the effects of their actions on others.
Our concern with this isolationist view of farm ownership is that it will further divide Ontario’s rural and small-town communities.
OFA needs to clarify its position on this matter, and further, consider advising your membership that when it comes to deciding whether to participate in a wind power project, the responsible course of action is to balance their financial opportunities with the economic, health and social needs of others around them.
We would be pleased to meet with the OFA Board to discuss our concerns.
Wind turbines: Divisive and useless or welcome easy money?
By Parker Gallant
I recently had the pleasure of being invited to do a presentation to the Prescott Federation of Agriculture by dairy farmer Reg Presley. The presentation explained what is behind the four lines on our electricity bills. Judging by the looks on faces, questions and comments afterwards, I think some of those at the OFA meeting were shocked by what we are all paying for.
Traveling through rural Ontario we frequently encounter strange sights now appearing with regularity. Those sights are industrial wind turbines soaring up to 500 feet, sometimes spinning and other times idle. Meant to displace fossil fuels (coal) those turbines were touted as producers of clean electricity which would save us health costs. That was the spin.
My interest in energy didn’t come from viewing the turbines. It came from a nasty electricity bill received from Hydro One for our place in Prince Edward County; a farming community. The research I put into the electricity system reflected on my banking background and why my bill had jumped. As I delved into the way the system functioned I was shocked to see Ontario had implemented a “renewable energy” strategy with no cost/benefit study! It was initially launched by Dwight Duncan when he sat in the Energy Minster’s chair and later expanded by the passing of the Green Energy Act under George Smitherman.
What I found was the move to renewable energy drove up the cost of what all Ontarians tend to regard as a “necessity of life.” Wind generated electricity presents itself in the middle of the night and in the spring and fall; periods when demand is lowest. Also, their intermittent nature means they need rampable back-up power and gas plants (including those moved at a cost of $1.1 billion) fill that gap. Because wind and solar generators get “first to the grid” rights our grid manager is often faced with conditions that may cause blackouts or brownouts.
In those situations Ontario is forced to either export power at a loss, spill hydro, steam off nuclear or pay wind and solar developers for NOT generating.
Those events cause our bill for electricity to rise and recent estimates indicate our loss on just the export side costs Ontario ratepayers in excess of $1 billion annually.
With another 3,700 MW of wind and 1,200 MW of solar to be added to Ontario’s supply those costs will continue to grow! The Energy Minister recently said rates will increase 33 % over the next three years.
Things looked differently a few years ago when Premier McGuinty in a speech stated: “we know the price of fossil fuels will keep going up, while we know the price of renewable technologies will keep coming down. We know where the world is going. And we choose to lead, not follow.”
As a result wind and solar developers swept through Ontario, signing up farmers, promising cash payments for simply allowing them to erect a wind turbine occupying less than an acre of land. Leases were signed and the money started to flow. Early signers found out later they should have held out for more money. Later on lessors discovered those turbines created friction with their neighbours and even family feuds because of the “global warming” debate. The leases locked in farmers, controlling future actions such as severing land, exiting the lease or negotiating early termination; meaning the friction(s) could not be cured.
Those turbines also kill birds and bats; bats that no longer consume insects that infect or destroy crops and result in the need to use pesticides. The estimated cost of pesticide use by Science Magazine as a result of bat kills by wind turbines in Pensylvania was $74 per acre.
Last year I discovered my neighbour had optioned some of his farmland to a wind developer and we chatted about it extensively, discussing the cash payments versus the down side of wind turbines.
Former Premier McGuinty’s musings have not materialized as that “cash crop” to benefit farmers but has wound up in the wind and solar developer pockets while the rest of us hand it over. The lead McGuinty envisaged has been a blow to our pocketbooks. Perhaps we should have simply been a follower.
Parker Gallant is a Toronto-based former Royal Bank vice-president, who has retirement property in Prince Edward County. He is vice president of Ontario Wind Concerns, an anti-wind power umbrella group.