Landowners met with a panel of experts at the forum titled “The Farmer, the Finance and the Fine Print”. Useful advice was given to help farmers deal with the challenge of wind farms in the region and the opportunity to benefit from these. At the end of the meeting, the following questions were raised:
Who is responsible for the decommissioning and removal of turbines?
Lawyer Hugh Piper: “The owner of the infrastructure, usually the developer or the energy company. If it’s their equipment, they will decommission. You’ll find that the issue of decommissioning often comes up in terms of bonds, and banks hate giving bonds on 20 – 30 time frames. but generally the issue of decommissioning is the responsibility of the energy company. But it can be contracted out. It doesn’t often have it, and you won’t often get that bond. You can negotiate a bond, and I think that in the future we’ll see more of these bonds. Only, in the last 10 years the banks have not agreed to undertake the decommission.”
Things keep changing. Isn’t there still a long way to go before we know something definite because the rules change. It would have been different five years ago. Isn’t there still a long way to go especially in superannuation?
Tax expert Paul Williams: C”ertainly super changes, but I think five years ago the rent would have been assessed just as it is now. The land tax issues are pretty settled, but its always an application of the facts. If you take the legislation and you have to apply everyone’s individual facts and circumstances to arrive at a result you can’t ever say – yes – it will definitely be exempt but ordinarily farming land is exempt, right? It’s just that you need to be aware that there are other competing issues there and just run the circumstances past your lawyer or your accountant and get some clarity.”
I know someone that will be a neighbour near a wind farm, but I don’t think that someone has spoken to them about the nearby neighboring agreement. What do I tell them?
Lawyer Hugh Piper: “I would be telling them to get on the phone and have a really strong conversation with the wind farm company in particular but probably your neighbour as well to say, ‘What happened there? Why wasn’t I part of this conversation for a start?’ But then, if you’re impacted by turbines there’s all sorts of different levels of impact – anything physical – dust, noise, sleep disturbance if you want to got there. Anything up to the visual aspect of turbines. I think people that are affected by dust, noise and those sorts of physical issues are right to be demanding not compensation, but remuneration to be part of the proposal. The community should be insisting that it happens and its not too late to do it in retrospect. It is more difficult. but its not too late, it’s not impossible. And have the conversation upfront with your neighbors who may or may not be hosting turbines to all get together and collectively bargain with the company that is owning and operating the infrastructure. It’s about picking up the phone.”
What about the affect on land values? Some people have definitely lost a lot of money and that affects the equity of your farm.
Landholder Charlie Prell: “The area I live in is so similar to this area (Inverell), they may as well be the same. We’re about two and a half hours from Sydney, an hour half from Canberra. The value of the land is not set by your cultural value, it is set by real estate value. The property near our area are farms, large and small near areas hosting turbines, and are changing hands right now and have been for the last 18 months at significantly record values. I know because I’ve seen the data that the spectra of land devaluations next to wind turbines values next to wind turbines is negligible.”
Lawyer High Piper: “There are exceptions to every rule but there are worldwide stats. And the world average shows that there are no problems. Overall, when you’re looking at rural land, you’re looking at productivity and how many cows and sheep you can put on your land. You are going to get situations in these renewable projects where some landholders can be heard but there are ways to mitigate.”