Beware of big wind’s big gifts, foes say
By John Miner, The London Free Press
Green energy companies, facing hostile and persistent rural Ontario opposition to their plans for massive wind farms, have begun backing everything from community golf tournaments to mental health centres.
Renewable energy giant NextEra Energy Canada says it’s just trying to be a good corporate citizen.
Anti-industrial wind turbine activist Esther Wrightman says it is more like deep pockets trying to buy community support.
K2 Wind Ontario — a limited partnership of Capital Power, Samsung, and Pattern Renewable that’s developing what will be Ontario’s largest wind farm near Goderich — has donated to more than a dozen community groups, including agricultural societies, minor hockey teams, a tractor-pull competition and Goderich and District Chamber of Commerce.
Last week, NextEra, which has wind farms in the approval process in Middlesex, Lambton and Huron counties, announced it is committing $1.1 million to help as many as 400 First Nation, Inuit and Metis youth across Canada to attend colleges and universities.
The money will be awarded annually as bursaries to the students seeking education in engineering, science, commerce, business and renewable energy.
Set up to run for 20 years — the projected lifespan of a wind farm — the bursary program is being managed in partnership with Indspire, the former National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation.
In its work in Ontario and other parts of the country, NextEra became aware that scholarships and bursaries for aboriginal kids was a need, said Steve Stengel of NextEra Energy Canada.
“We are a company that believes in giving back to the community,” he said.
NextEra is a subsidiary of Florida-based NextEra Energy, the largest renewable energy company in the U.S..
It’s also in discussions with municipalities for what it calls a Community Vibrancy Fund — money that will be paid to municipalities that are home to wind energy projects.
In the case of Haldimand County, the payments over the 20-year life of the wind farms have been estimated by NextEra to total $40 million.
In Middlesex, NextEra has put money into SEARCH, a community mental health services centre in Strathroy. It also sponsored a charity golf tournament run by the Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority and Grand Bend’s Aquafest beachfront festival.
Stengel said NextEra in the U.S. has a long history of backing community initiatives and the list of projects it is backing in Ontario will expand as it gains a better understanding of individual community needs.
“The reason we make these sort of contributions is because it is the right thing to do,” said Stengel.
As for softening opposition to wind farms with donations, Stengel said he doubts some people against wind farms will ever change their minds.
“I am not sure there is anything we might do to change their view,” he said.
Middlesex wind turbine opponent Wrightman said wind farm developers appear to be targeting the money to organizations and groups they would like to see quieted.
By accepting the money, groups such as SEARCH and the Conservation Authority, are compromised, she said.
How can people with mental health problems caused by wind farms turn to a centre receiving money from the wind farm company, Wrightman asked.
“It really is like a war,” with the companies infiltrating a community and trying to get into its good graces, she said.
Opponents are fighting back in their own way: an anti-wind group has forced NextEra, developer of the 92-turbine Jericho Wind Energy Centre, to move a public meeting slated for Forest on Feb. 8.
NextEra Energy originally announced it was holding an open house that day at Kimball Hall in Forest, but the company’s Josie Hernandez said it’s now at Thedford’s Legacy Recreation Centre.
This is the second time the Middlesex-Lambton Wind Action Group has booked a hall out from under NextEra.
The anti-wind turbine group did the same last summer after the company announced plans for a public meeting in Ailsa Craig. NextEra had to move one of its public information sessions to an outdoor pavilion that time.
“We try to do anything within our power to undermine what they’re doing,” said Marcelle Brooks, a member of the action group.
Meanwhile, Plympton-Wyoming will defend its turbine bylaw if it isn’t honoured by Suncor in its plans for the Cedar Point wind farm, says Mayor Lonny Napper.
While the province only requires wind turbines to be at least 550 metres away from neighbouring homes, Plympton-Wyoming council passed a bylaw calling for them to be no closer than two kilometres.