Some industries just seem like natural good guys, like those that produce alternative, clean energies. But this story shows that big corporations are still big corporations, even if they are building windmill farms. If the little guy gets in their way, watch out!
Darlene Dotson and her sons, David and Daniel, had a home in the Tehachapi Mountains, outside of Mojave, California. The mountains have attracted a lot of development from the wind industry because of the area’s almost never-ceasing supply of wind. It happens to be at a point where the cool air drawn from the Pacific Ocean meets the dry, hot desert air, creating endless currents.
According to the family’s attorney, Morgan Stewart:
“[The property] was one of the original homesteads built by African Americans in the early 20th century.”
Here’s where the bad guys, who are supposed to be good guys, come in. It gets ugly.
In 2009, EDP Renewables North America began pressuring the Dotsons, as well as all of their neighbors, to sell their properties so they could construct a windmill farm. The company increasingly used high pressure tactics until the family was the only one still holding out.
It started out friendly enough. According to a lawsuit that the Dotsons filed against a consortium of companies on May 7th:
“[The] defendants held themselves out as friends to the local community and a source of prosperity for its residents. Among other things, defendants promised Mrs. Dotson and her neighbors that the wind farm would stimulate the local economy and generate energy revenue for cooperating landowners. All that Mrs. Dotson and her neighbors had to do was to sign over the rights to their homes.”
From there, the pressure techniques ratcheted up, including threats to surround the house with windmills and cut off the family’s access to it, a warning that the windmills would cause property values to plummet, and alleged insults directed at the family. Still, the Dotsons refused.
When they would visit, they found increasing amounts of destruction from vandalism, like broken windows and patio furniture. In February, bulldozers began destroying all the neighboring homes. In March, when David Dotson went to the property to do routine maintenance, he found … nothing. The house and all its contents had disappeared.
EDP told the county it destroyed the house accidentally because they mistook it for another one. They claimed it was not only unoccupied, but ‘uninhabitable’. Then they contacted the Dotsons with another offer to buy.
Attorney Stewart said:
“It’s pretty clear this was intentional. The house wasn’t empty. It was fully furnished. There were antiques and family photos in it that can’t be replaced, and to this day the family doesn’t know what’s happened to any of that.”
What’s not clear is whether racism was involved. Stewart speculated about that:
“They are the only African American family in the area, the only ones pressured very hard by the companies, and the only ones who had their house demolished when they refused to sell … It’s especially sad because they described how they built parts of the house with their own hands. It’s ugly.”
It is ugly, without a doubt. And greed is obviously the basic motivation. EDP and its partners destroyed a part of the Dotsons lives that they can’t get back — a family home with memories of kids and grandkids growing up.
The following companies were named in the lawsuit: EDP Renewables North America, Horizon Wind Energy Co., Rising Tree Wind Farm, CVE Contracting Group, and Renewable Land LLC. The family is asking for punitive damages — “for trespass to land, violation of the Bane Civil Rights Act, intentional infliction of emotional distress, conversion, nuisance, unfair business practices and negligence”.
It would be hard to put a price on what the Dotsons have lost. It’s pretty ironic, but EDP’s description of ‘Who We Are’ on their website says they are “a leading, global renewable energy company devoted to value creation.” However, that’s clarified a little further down when they say they “create value for our stakeholders and shareholders” and that they are committed to “profit generation.”
All the pretty graphics on their page don’t disguise what they’re really about: money, money, money. EDP is a multinational corporation and, regardless of how they want to sell their mission, they’re not friends with the little people.