Conservation Authority’s wind energy lease “a messy web” to wind activists
Heather Wright, Sarnia-Lambton Independent
Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority is talking to lawyers about a lease it holds with NextEra Energy on a piece of land in the Municipality of Bluewater.
Tom Proutt, general manager of the authority, confirms it was deeded the land from an estate over four years ago, long before wind projects became hugely controversial.
The authority is already under fire from wind groups because its foundation accepted a donation from NextEra Energy for a golf tournament in Exeter. The conservation authority has to approve NextEra’s massive wind projects in Lambton Shores and in Bluewater and South Huron. Officials say they can only turn down the project for limited reasons including if it could cause flood damage, erosion or was in a dynamic beach area.
Proutt confirmed “the (land lease) contract we inherited had funds attached to it.” He wouldn’t say how much money is generated from the lease. But the general manager adds “there will not be a tower on the property.
“We were asked by some individuals for copies of the agreement and that we not accept funding from wind energy companies; our board is sorting through all that,” he added.
Proutt says lawyers are currently looking into the contract and its implications.
Esther Wrightman of Middlesex Lambton Wind Concerns is not surprised the conservation authority would have been given land with a wind lease on it “considering the number of leases out there” – especially four years ago when there was little concern about the projects.
But several sources say the authority not only inherited the lease, but renewed it recently. Proutt would not speak to the allegation, saying lawyers are looking into the lease.
Wrightman says renewing the lease was the wrong thing to do. “If the conservation authority’s mandate is to take care of these natural environments and they are to be model stewards of the land and are signing away or resigning leases on these lands, that does not set a very good example,” says Wrightman. “The better example would be ‘no, we don’t want to resign this.’
“I don’t think that’s where they should be getting their money source.”
And she’s concerned it could be a slippery slope.
“They have a fairly large role in the projects when they’re being developed…if this piece of property was being developed how would that (make them) a third party,” she says. “They aren’t separating themselves from the industry they’re in with it.
“You are relying on them to look at this from the outside and to make sure everything is done ethically and correctly…you hope they keep a good arms-length distance from the developers on this…it’s a very messy web.”
Proutt says the authority will try to be as “transparent as possible” once the lawyer has investigated. Wrightman is skeptical “They should have had a lawyer look at it (the lease) before he resigned it.”
– Heather Wright