Wind power nightmare when construction bills unpaid
By Tom Collins
MANITOULIN ISLAND A farmer with a wind turbine on his property could be on the hook for the costs of putting up a turbine when there is a dispute among contractors of the project.
Thats what 24 property owners fear on Manitoulin Island near Sault Ste. Marie. Court documents show that R.M. Belanger, which installed transmission lines for 24 turbines in 2013 and 2014, was owed $2.25 million plus HST. But the main contractor only paid a small portion of the bill, leaving an outstanding bill of just more than $2 million.
R.M. Belanger filed court documents last year to put liens on 24 properties where the transmission lines were laid. The conflict appears to be ongoing as the lawyers arent speaking publicly. Farmers Forum contacted three property owners who say they received notice of the lien but no follow up. The lien, if enforced, would average $85,000 per property.
Toronto environmental lawyer Eric Gillespie has handled numerous wind power cases and told Farmers Forum that clauses in some contracts mean property owners are responsible when a company installing the turbines is not paid.
“Because of the work that our office does, weve looked at a significant number of these agreements,” said Gillespie. “From our experience, Manitoulin Island would not be unique. This could certainly happen elsewhere.”
A wind turbine contract can be anywhere from 10 to 40 pages with plenty of fine print, and a clause covering responsibilities for costs might be buried in the fine print, said Gillespie, who encourages farmers to seek legal help to review contracts before signing and suggests farmers ask the wind power companies to cover some of the legal fees because “youre putting your stuff on our land.”
Also, ask them upfront who is responsible for unpaid construction bills. “Its perfectly legal to tape record conversations and you dont even have to say to anyone that youre doing it.”
He added that in general, the “law works in such a way that if somebody does work on somebody elses land and doesnt get paid for it, then they can put something against the land . . . So what youre looking for is something in effect that the wind company will cover all those costs and will pay any money that you have to pay to try to defend yourself if something goes wrong.”
Farmers can earn $25,000 annually to host a turbine but contracts could allow for a number of surprises. A contract may state the wind company can move the turbine site, access roads and transmissions lines, he said. So, a farmer who thought a wind turbine was going at the back corner of the farm could see the location switched.
“You signed an agreement that says in many cases that they can do whatever they want on your land,” said Gillespie. “Thats very disturbing.”