Opponents say wind company donations to conservation authority “a violation of public trust”

Heather Wright Photo

Heather Wright Photo

A donation to a conservation authority by one of the wind energy companies planning a massive project in the Grand Bend area is “a violation of public trust” according to anti-wind activist.

And officials with the conservation authority which accepted it say it may be time to create a sponsorship policy.

For the past six years, the Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority has held a golf tournament to raise money to maintain trails in a memorial park in Exeter. Last year, NextEra Energy was one of sponsors of the event.

In an interview with QMI Agency, NextEra officials say they have a long history of backing community initiatives and they make the contributions “because it is the right thing to do.”

But the sponsorship drawn the ire of anti-wind activists who say the conservation authority has to approve the projects and should not be accepting money from the companies.

Marcelle Brooks of the Middlesex Lambton Wind Concern isn’t surprised NextEra is passing out cash in the community. “They are specifically aligning themselves with community and environmental organizations in order to appear sensitive,” she says. “Fortunately, residents know all about NextEra and that they are neither environmentally sensitive nor sensitive to the needs of the community.

“It is an absolute conflict of interest to accept any money from a company exploiting its land holdings…NextEra needs to get across the Ausable River (which is under the jurisdiction of the conservation authority). It is a violation of a public trust.”

Tom Proutt, the general manager of the ABCA, says the donation went directly to the cause through the foundation. And he says the sponsorships don’t come with conditions.

stw-ausable conservation (2)

Tom Proutt
General Manager
Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority

But Proutt concedes the sponsorship may, to some, have an appearance of being too close to the authority which will have to give approval for the controversial wind projects to move forward. “The energy company needs our approval for roads and transmission lines,” says Proutt, “but the Green Energy Act says…we have to give permits for that work. We cannot withhold our permission.” A report to the conservation authority’s board says directors can only turn the projects down only to control pollution, flooding, erosion or protect dynamic beaches.

Proutt says the complaints from the public about the sponsorship from NextEra may lead to change in how donations are accepted.

“This (accepting donations from wind energy companies and the opposition to it) is all relatively new,” says Proutt. “We don’t have a policy and we will have to look at it.”

– Heather Wright