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White County landowner wary of solar projects

(WISH Photos)

WHITE COUNTY, Ind. (WISH) — A longtime farmer told News 8 he doesn’t believe a solar company was honest with him when they leased his land for a solar farm.

In 2019, Doug McGill leased about 400 acres to EDP Renewables so the Texas-based company could build a solar farm. McGill said construction contractors, citing instructions from EDP Renewables, destroyed much of the drainage system in place on the leased land and bulldozed 60 acres worth of topsoil.

McGill told News 8 earlier this month that he did not believe EDPR lived up to its agreement but those claims are now in question.

After speaking with the White County farmer, WISH-TV obtained publicly available documentation signed by McGill in which he agrees there has been no breach in his lease with EDPR. When News 8 reached out for clarification, McGill acknowledged the company did what they said they would do as described in his written agreement with them. His lingering concern is whether the company will follow through with restoring the land years in the future as the company promises to do.

EDPR leadership issued this statement:

“According to an EDPR NA official, there is currently no legal dispute between the landowner and EDPR NA, and EDPR NA is not the current owner of the project.

In the original local news story, the local landowner asserts violations to the terms of the lease that he signed in 2019. EDPR NA has refuted these allegations.”

EDP Renewables has five wind farms in White County in addition to the solar farm on land leased from McGill and a neighbor.

Andrew Magner, EDPR’s senior project development manager and a native of the area, told News 8 that officials negotiate terms with landowners through lease option agreements before a lease is finalized.

Magner says that while he can’t comment on specific cases, the company never makes changes to a lease or a lease option agreement without first discussing them with the landowner and getting their written consent.

He says leases can be signed in different locations, but notarization always happens in person in the county where the project is located. Magner added that local land agents usually handle negotiations with the company and contractors handle any on-site demolition or construction, but those agents and contractors always are subject to the company’s oversight.

“I try to treat the development process with a lot of thought, and I believe we are a very good developer,” Magner told WISH-TV. “We take the time to talk with landowners, meet with individuals around the county, go to county meetings. We’re out there, and we’re open for public comment if there are concerns.”

According to Magner, EDP Renewables conducts studies and models of drainage issues before it begins building a solar farm. He says the company always incorporates the landowner’s input into its final plans.

McGill said he is not opposed to solar farms but believes they should be built on land that is less suitable for agriculture.