DWIGHT – “Be careful what you sign” was the message at an informational meeting Monday night and hosted by Grundy County and Livingston County Farm Bureaus in Dwight.
Laura Harmon, senior counsel at the Illinois Farm Bureau, spoke with area farmers who have been contacted by Cypress Creek Renewables LLC, a California-based solar company that is offering Illinois farmers cash in exchange for potential long-term use of their land.
“This [the contract presented] is all negotiable,” Harmon said. “Don’t grant ridiculously broad easements.”
More than 70 landowners from six counties – including Grundy, Livingston, LaSalle, McHenry, Kankakee and Kane – were present.
Grundy County farmers Steve Kodat said the most important thing he took away from the meeting is to contact a lawyer before signing anything because the contracts are fairly one-sided.
“I was listening to the chatter of a few farmers who had spoken with the company and heard they are not willing to negotiate,” Kodat said.
Kodat received a contract from Cypress Creek Renewables LLC and said he can understand why some farmers may feel a steady income option would work for them, but that after hearing Harmon speak, there are more questions to be considered.
Harmon covered several paragraphs in the agreement and pointed out where she felt there were issues.
One issue she said is with the provision that states the farmer won’t interfere or obstruct the sun from reaching the solar panels.
She questioned whether dust or aerial application of chemicals, which are common on area farms, would be considered interfering with the sunlight.
“If they decide your home is blocking light, you have to take it down,” she said. “There is no compensation for that written into the agreement.”
She said another issue with the agreement is that it gives consent, not only to the property in question, but also to all adjacent property owned by the farmer or “in the vicinity.” She questioned what “vicinity” means. Feet? Miles?
She said farmers also need to avoid granting perpetual easements or leases, stating that things now are different from how they were five years ago, and in five years they will be different again.
“Terms can be so one-sided the company may unilaterally extend the time period. You need to make sure there is an end date,” Harmon said. “Avoid automatic renewal.”
Kodat said he felt Harmon’s information was valuable to landowners considering signing a lease.
Cypress Creek Renewables LLC formed in 2014 and describes itself as “the largest and fastest-growing dedicated provider of local solar farms.” The company has raised more than $1 billion, according to its website.
In December, Congress passed a five-year extension of the tax credit for solar and wind projects. The extension allows a tax credit of 30 percent of the value of solar projects.
Emails sent Tuesday to Cypress Creek Renewables LLC were not immediately returned.