Invenergy to Pay Landowners in Sight of Turbines

Invenergy, a Chicago based windfarm developer, is proposing compensation for property owners near a proposed Wisconsin wind farm project. Is it just a creative twist for gaining local approval? Or a symbol of social change? Given that the offer comes at a seminal moment in US political history, we'd like to explore that thought. First off, and back at the windfarm, from the Milwaukee Jounal Sentinel of October 28, 2005 we learn that "Chicago-based Invenergy will pay landowners who are within one-third mile of turbines, under a proposal accepted in the past week by town boards in Byron and Oakfield in Fond du Lac County...Wind power projects can be controversial in part because neighbors who don't have a wind farm on their property have to look at the turbine and know that their neighbor is enjoying a financial gain by selling easements to host the wind farm".
Bottom line: "property owners who live within one-third of a mile of one turbine would receive $500 a year, while property owners who are within one-third of a mile of two turbines would receive $750 annually...Landowners who host a wind turbine will receive easement payments of about $4,200 a year, as well as compensation for crops they would not be able to sell because of the easement".

Here's why we think the compensation offer is important. First a little stage setting.

Fond du Lac County WI (loosely translates to 'foot of the lake', from the early French explorers) has rock outcrops and glacially formed hills that provide elevation above the otherwise relatively flat landscape. Like so much of the US, non-farm housing has sprung up amidst the dairy farm and cash-crop dominated landscape. Residential property values and quality of life are felt to hinge on keeping the "rural" aesthetics. Enter the wind farm proposal.

Let's illustrate importance with some hypothetical examples. If a solid waste management firm offered cash to neighbors of a proposed landfill or incinerator, it wouldn't pass the "red faced test". When a highway or school takes private land through eminent domain, the government compensates the owners of property claimed, but not adjacent owners, although they many times are secondary beneficiaries. How are windfarms different and what's going on in a broader social context?

The so-called "takings" movement demands that the Federal government compensate property owners for loss of future property values that may stem from development restrictions from wetland protections and the Endangered Species Act. Perhaps a private sector windfarm developer's offer for compensation is an extrapolation of that idea? Sure, people are slowly grasping the significance of climate change, but some could be feeling that green power is for city dwellers or "TreeHuggers": hence the turbine symbolizes somewhat of a "taking".

While people commonly state their opposition to wind farms based on concerns about turbine induced bat and bird mortality, few would publicly claim worries over a loss of property value. "In it for himself" would be the thought that resonates through the hearing room, were someone to come right out and say that. Fearing neighborly scorn, the repetition of unsubstantiated "bird and bat" risk flows out of a combination of myth, honest concern, and, we suppose, an unconscious proxy for property value concerns.

With the larger threat of a housing bubble "burst" on the horizon, the whole psychology of wind farm opposition and compensation could change abruptly. Several related factors are linked to it. Many nuclear generators are nearing the end of their original operating licenses and huge, time consuming investments will be needed to renew them. Also, severe natural gas shortages are here or just around the corner for so called merchant power generators. And,finally, heads are coming out of the sand over coal fired plant mercury and C02 emissions.

We put the pieces together and see a different scenario brewing. From the wind farm public hearing examiner of the future: "Can I see some hands for those nearby property owners who might want a contract for free carbon neutral electricity"?

In this scenario, which we'll call Please in My Back Yard (PIMBY) real estate speculators will sense the opportunity, and snap up those hillocks and outcrops likely to host the turbines of the future. Just as growth patterns moved away from the rivers and lakes where cities first sprung up, sprawling instead around major highways and malls, the growth of the coming decades will be shaped in part by availability of green power. Wind is the designated driver. Won't happen in the hurricane zone. But in so many other areas, PIMBY will be important to larger development patterns.

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