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Wind farming draws investors and concerns from landowners in Allegany County

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Liberty Energy begins work to secure property rights, landowners organize to stop project

By Andrew Harris, 11/15/21

A large scale wind energy project is taking shape in the Wellsville/Andover/Independence area, offering possibilities for some landowners and creating anxiety for other property owners.

Liberty Power, formerly Algonquin Power, is proposing the Fulmer Valley Energy Facility project to landowners. Most of that area is in the town of Andover and Independence, a smaller portion is in Wellsville. Overall the project would require thousands of acres of land.

The Canadian-based energy company, who has twenty operational wind farms and six solar farms currently in operation, is taking a serious look at the southeast corner of Allegany County. The Liberty Power company mission statement reads:

“OUR PURPOSE: “Sustaining energy and water for life.” This statement speaks to our commitment to making a meaningful contribution to our customers, communities, and the planet by providing clean, renewable energy and water.”

Landowners were invited to the Beef Haus in Wellsville last week to hear from company representatives and ask questions about the potential development. About forty people attended and listened to a short presentation by Liberty, enjoyed a catered meal, and by all accounts had some lively conversation about the project.

After that corporate-sponsored presentation at the Beef Haus, some landowners were not pleased with various elements of the project. They decided to hold a separate meeting to inform other landowners about the wind farm and what they consider good reasons to refuse a property lease with Liberty.

That meeting, held at the Wellsville Brewing Company on Main Street, was organized by Jeremiah Bretl and his uncles Tony Lojacono and Jerry LoJacono. The family owns a camp within the wind farm project and hosted the meeting to inform fellow landowners about the proposal brought before them.

They invited Elmira lawyer, Chris Denton who specializes in energy leases across the sector to speak and inform attendees. Denton provided about and hour of lecture and discussion about wind energy, landowner rights, and some background on how land leases work. Denton prefaced his presentation by announcing to the crowd:

“I only represent landowners who are presented with a lease, never the energy company.”

Denton provided the crowd with many of the common arguments against windmills. Among them were electromagnetic interference, bird deaths and migration disruption, infrasound pollution, epic equipment failures, and the clearcutting of land required to host a wind farm. While some of that presentation was peppered with dramatic images of burning windmills and statistics from Europe, the heart of the discussion focused on the land options and leases.

The narrative constructed by Denton highlighted the lack of local control in the SEQR(State Environmental Quality Review) process for large scale wind farms. “The state will override local government efforts, it’s up to the landowners,” Denton warned. Mr. Denton explained that the bigger picture is that downstate NY needs the power, upstate is already producing over thirty percent more than consumption.

His message was clear, Albany and New York City control the state, they consume all the power, and they need to dramatically increase renewable energy sources in order to reach carbon neutrality. Multinational corporations like Liberty Energy are using generous federal subsidies and the wide open spaces of upstate New York to meet that demand.

The lawyer reminded the crowd that these massive corporations are driven by one motive: profit. Any landowner interested in signing a lease with this company, or any energy firm, must be wary. Just like pipeline installations, hydrofracking sites, solar farms, or water projects; developers first present options contracts. A typical options contract provides the company the option to purchase a lease from the landowner within a certain period off time. It usually includes general terms for the full lease, should the company decide to execute and use the land for a project. These option contracts usually pay just a fraction of what a full contract to lease would provide, but it secures the property for a period of time.

Lawyer Denton warned that most options contracts force the landowner to accept the full lease agreement should the company decide to exercise its option. He warned all to take caution when considering the option contract. Denton’s also warned all landowners who decide to make a contract with Liberty, or any energy company, to form a Limited Liability Corporation(LLC), and transfer the property being leased into the LLC.

“If you don’t have the land in an LLC situation, anything that can and does happen, you will be personally liable for.”

After his remarks the crowd asked a few questions of Denton. Town of Wellsville Deputy Supervisor Patty Graves, who is well educated on the subject, questioned some off the claims made by Denton about landowner liability. Her main point was that large scale energy leases may be largely controlled by state agencies but they still require financial assurances and protections for the landowner. Graves suggested that very few landowners would ever sign a lease that didn’t provide proper ‘end of lease’ terms. “People aren’t that stupid,” she remarked.

A quick discussion with prior Town of Wellsville Supervisor Dar Fanton revealed that many towns in rural counties, Wellsville included, do not have any wind farm regulations on the books. Wellsville has recently enacted laws regarding solar farms, which include financial bonding and decommissioning assurances.

Stay tuned for more on this massive project as events unfold. Have you signed a wind farm lease ? Email us and tell the good and the bad!! [email protected]

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