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Wind energy project saves some farms when agriculture can’t

"We haven't had a decent wheat crop in six years," said Gordon Vallier, who lives in northwest Logan County. He explained that there's hardly any grass left, so he had to sell all his cattle last fall. "This is the first time since my grandfather started the farm that we haven't had cattle," Vallier said. There is a bit of good news in Vallier's story, however, and it has to do with the wind.

PEETZ - There's been a tough drought that has rocked this whole area of the country for the last few years, and farmers in northern Logan County are no exception.

"We haven't had a decent wheat crop in six years," said Gordon Vallier, who lives in northwest Logan County. He explained that there's hardly any grass left, so he had to sell all his cattle last fall.

"This is the first time since my grandfather started the farm that we haven't had cattle," Vallier said.

There is a bit of good news in Vallier's story, however, and it has to do with the wind.

Vallier has several wind turbines on his land that are owned and operated by FPL Energy, LLC, as well as a cement plant the company has been using during construction.

"For people around here, they've been - to us - a godsend," Vallier said. "The income from this might have saved the farm."

Jim Kutey, the director of development for the energy company, likened the turbines to another crop landowners in the area can benefit from.

"It's like harvesting the wind," Kutey said, adding that there's no shortage of that in northeast Colorado.

FPL Energy, LLC, is spending more than a half billion dollars on its project to... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

PEETZ - There's been a tough drought that has rocked this whole area of the country for the last few years, and farmers in northern Logan County are no exception.

"We haven't had a decent wheat crop in six years," said Gordon Vallier, who lives in northwest Logan County. He explained that there's hardly any grass left, so he had to sell all his cattle last fall.

"This is the first time since my grandfather started the farm that we haven't had cattle," Vallier said.

There is a bit of good news in Vallier's story, however, and it has to do with the wind.

Vallier has several wind turbines on his land that are owned and operated by FPL Energy, LLC, as well as a cement plant the company has been using during construction.

"For people around here, they've been - to us - a godsend," Vallier said. "The income from this might have saved the farm."

Jim Kutey, the director of development for the energy company, likened the turbines to another crop landowners in the area can benefit from.

"It's like harvesting the wind," Kutey said, adding that there's no shortage of that in northeast Colorado.

FPL Energy, LLC, is spending more than a half billion dollars on its project to provide electricity by way of wind in northern Logan County all around Peetz. The company estimates it will pay landowners with wind turbines and associated equipment on their land $65 million over 30 years, an average of about $2.2 million.

Keith Puffenbarger, who owns about 294 acres west of Peetz, opted not to host the turbines on his land.

"I'm not anti-wind turbine," Puffenbarger said from his home 70 miles west of Washington, D.C. "My land is just too small."

He explained that with a couple of small houses, a relatively new barn and some cattle, there's just not enough room.

"But I can understand why the larger landowners would want to have them there," Puffenbarger said. "It makes financial sense. We just have to get used to these big towers along the canyon walls."

He emphasized that FPL Energy, LLC, representatives were always "very professional, open and honest."

"There was no animosity ... it wasn't negative. I was never pushed," Puffenbarger said.

Vallier said the same thing about the dealings with FPL Energy, LLC.

"I've never had any trouble with any FPL people," Vallier said. "I've worked with quite a few of them. They've been nothing but fair."

When asked whether the terms of his contract are fair, Vallier said that although he knows FPL Energy, LLC, has to cover its costs and make money, "it's probably as fair as they could afford - or at least I'd like to think so."

Vallier said one of the contract options gives landowners several thousand per year per wind turbine on their land the first year, and the amount goes up every year. There are other contract options, but Vallier said he wasn't sure on the specifics of them. Kutey said there are confidentiality agreements in the contracts and he would not comment on the specifics of the contracts.

Vallier added that the FPL Energy, LLC, people gave him plenty of time to make a decision, and offered to pay part of attorney fees to have the contract evaluated.

"I didn't ever feel forced or pushed," Vallier said.

The only problem from Vallier's point of view was to figure out which company to sign up with. At the time there were two companies - FPL Energy, LLC, and Invenergy - vying for land to put up wind turbines and other equipment. FPL Energy acquired a portion of Invenergy's interests in the area in March of 2007, and now that company is the major player in northern Logan County. Caithness Energy is another company with wind turbines in the area - which are operated and maintained by Inexco Energy. Caithness owns 33 turbines near Peetz.

Inexco is another firm in Logan County with wind farm operations, and at least one person who signed a contract with that firm has not had a totally positive experience.

Tom Fehringer, who lives near Peetz, has nine wind turbines on his land operated by Inexco. He said for the most part everything has been fine, and he has no problems, except for the amount of money he and other area landowners receive. He signed a deal that said he would get $1,000 per year per turbine for the remainder of the company's operation of the turbines. He said the company has paid him, but almost never on time. He was also told at the time he signed the lease that the amount he and other landowners were getting from Inexco was fair, but later found out that he wasn't getting all that much.

Inexco representatives could not be reached for comment as of 10 a.m. Friday.

FPL Energy, LLC may have a good reputation in Logan County, but one landowner who has a deal with the company in Washington is not pleased with the firm.

"I'm not very happy (with FPL Energy, LLC)," said Shirley Hindman, owner of the 9 Mile Ranch in southeast Washington state.

Tad Greener, Hindman's ranch manager, said that their relationship with FPL Energy, LLC began in the late 1990s when Hindman's late father owned the ranch. Greener said the contract promised $2,000 per year per turbine - the 9 Mile Ranch is host to 160 turbines - but the revenue has been "nowhere near" the estimated amount.

Greener also said underground cables run through the property and there is an energy collection point on the land, but the ranch is not compensated for that. Greener also says the contract promises that if landowners around the ranch get more money than the ranch does, FPL Energy, LLC will raise the ranch to the level of its neighbors.

Mary Wells, community outreach manager for FPL Energy, LLC, said although she would not talk about any specific disputes in public, in general contracts are based on different factors in different states and subsequently vary from place to place.

Kutey said the contract was fair when the landowner signed it or they wouldn't have signed up. He also said he knows of no provision in any contract that would change the amount a landowner is paid based on what neighboring properties are paid.

Greener also described FPL Energy, LLC as a bad steward of the land.

"It goes on and on," Greener said. "(FPL Energy) has not been a very good partner with the land ... they haven't been good stewards of the land."

Greener said recently new management people have been in the area and are doing a much better job addressing concerns, but over the life of the relationship things haven't gone well.

"This thing is sold to ranchers and farmers that they will still be able to utilize the property in the same capacity," Greener said. "Operationally it has been a nightmare for us."

"This is a situation where buyer beware," Greener continued. He said the contracts are set up in a way that makes it almost impossible to understand, even with the help of a lawyer. A landowner needs a specialist, not just an attorney, Greener said.

"What recourse do you have?" Greener asked. "It's difficult for a landowner to take on an animal the size of (FPL Group)," he added, referring to the holding company that owns FPL Energy, LLC.

"We want to be as sensitive as we can to their land," Wells said, speaking of all the hundreds of landowners they work with across the country. "As in any relationship, issues can come up - not all landowners are the same." She added that FPL Energy, LLC values all the landowners it works with regardless of any issues, and that the company wants to resolve issues.

"At minimum, landowners can expect us to honor contractual agreements," Wells said. "But they can expect more than that on a relationship basis."

"Renewable energy is worthwhile," Greener said. "But the individual landowner needs to be cognizant of what's going on."

Vallier said all people have to do is read the contract, and if they don't like it, don't sign it.

"There's a lot of legalese, but just read the papers and see what (they) say," Vallier said.

A.J. Vicens can be reached at 522-1990, Ext. 237, or by e-mail at: ajvicens@journal-advocate.com.



Source: http://www.journal-advocate...

MAY 11 2007
https://www.windaction.org/posts/8831-wind-energy-project-saves-some-farms-when-agriculture-can-t
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