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Landowners can speak ill of wind company

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012 8:58 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012 9:01 p.m. CDT

Wind energy companies' contracts with landowners include confidentiality clauses, which may not be as extensive as some may believe.

Recently, I obtained two early versions of proposed contracts by Mainstream Renewable Power, which is planning a wind farm in Lee, Whiteside and Bureau counties.

Last year, a wind farm opponent suggested the confidentiality clauses barred landowners from discussing health problems that they believe resulted from nearby wind turbines.

That allegation was made during a meeting of the Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals, which was considering changes to the county's wind energy ordinance.

Asked during the meeting about the opponent's claim, John Martin of Mainstream declined to comment, saying confidentiality clauses themselves were "inherently confidential."

Audience members snickered.

Another Mainstream representative, Keith Bolin, said no one would be barred from talking about their health. He said he was offended at the insinuation they couldn't.

Bolin was correct, as the early versions of the contract show.

In one version, the confidentiality clause reads, "The landowner agrees that all confidential information received by the landowner relating to the wind power project or developer is the property of the developer and shall be kept absolutely secret, undisclosed, in trust and in confidence…"

What does this include?

The terms of the contract and Mainstream's business activities, client lists, technical specifications, among other things.

I could find nothing in either version of the contract that stops people from blaming turbines for poor health. In fact, no provision bars landowners with turbines from speaking ill of Mainstream or its project. If the terms of the lease are confidential, how did we get copies? A landowner initially interested in having turbines soured on the idea. This landowner never signed the agreement, so wasn't bound by its terms. This kind person gave it to us.

That's how we could make the "inherently confidential" confidentiality clause completely public.

Sauk Valley Media reporter David Giuliani covers Whiteside and Lee county governments, Morrison and other smaller communities. He can be reached at dgiuliani@saukvalley or at 800-798-4085, ext. 525.

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