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Wind farm massively overpays landowners

Staff writer

Orsted, which owns Sunflower Wind, overpaid installation fees to landowners who have turbines on their fields. Now it wants its money back.

Eugene Just, who has one turbine on his land near Aulne, received a check for $10,000. He expected to get $5,000.

Just, who farms and has a cow/calf operation, had cashed his check before Orsted confirmed it was too large.

Lyle Leppke, who has three turbines, was paid “in the vicinity” of $55,000. That check is hanging on his refrigerator.

“So far, I don’t know anybody who wasn’t overpaid,” Leppke said.

Orsted is aware of the error and challenges it could cause landowners who thought the money was theirs to spend.

“There was a system error which resulted in inaccurate landowner payments from our Sunflower Wind project,” spokesman Charlotte Bellotte wrote in an email to the Record. “We are working with the landowners to address the overpayment and accommodate for their individual situations.”

Just, 84, called Orsted and didn’t get a firm answer on what he was supposed to do, he said. A landowner he knows has one turbine on his property and received $28,000.

“Why the difference?” Just said he asked Orsted. “They couldn’t tell me. They just beat around the bush.”

An Orsted employee told him that maps showed he had two turbines on his property even though he actually has only one.

Orsted took over Sunflower in spring 2021. Just said he didn’t know whether previous wind farm owners made the mistake.

Landowners will receive annual lease payments and royalties from energy production after Sunflower’s scheduled opening in September.

“Information regarding any landowner payment structure is confidential,” Bellotte said. “However, landowners receive payments during every stage of project development and operation.”

Like Just, Leppke is unclear what he’ll be paid in the future.

“Truth is, I don’t know specifically that they have clarified what they will be paying everybody,” Leppke said. “When I sell a cow, I at least know what I’m getting per pound and how much she weighed, so I know how much I’m going to get paid.”

Leppke compared the situation to overpayment by the IRS.

“I think the advantage they have is they can take it out of future payments,” he said. “It’s no different than what the IRS would do. If they overpay you, they’ll come get the money back from you one way or another.”

Just owns about 1,000 acres in Marion County and 1,000 acres in Chase County. He farms with a son and also runs a cow-calf operation.

He’s well-aware of some people’s opposition to the wind farm, but he sees the importance of renewable energy.

“I grew up without electricity,” he said. “I’d hate to live without it anymore.

“I know there was opposition because people didn’t want them to spoil the scenery, but all those people had electricity. The other thing is, supposedly it’s another income.”

Both Just and Leppke said construction workers at the farm have been easy to work with and responsive.

“I think the construction people have been fabulous,” Leppke said. “They’ll see you a quarter-mile away, and they’ll stop or pull over to get out of the way. I don’t have to pick up trash.

“There’s no trash out there. They’re clean. They’re professional. They’re very, very courteous.”

Last modified April 19, 2023

 

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