NextEra Energy is offering Lambton Shores big money for hosting its Jericho wind project and depending on who you talk to it’s either a community investment or a bribe.
NextEra has approval from the provincial government to build up to 92 turbines in Lambton Shores to provide 150 megawatts of power. NextEra Energy hopes to begin building in the summer of 2013.
Derek Dudek, community relations officer with NextEra, recently told council the company is prepared to set up a Community Vibrancy Fund which would mean about $550,000 every year the company operates. Over the 25 years of the contract that would mean $13.75 million going into Lambton Shores.
Dudek says the money is meant for community improvement projects such as arenas, ball diamonds, energy efficiency projects and tax relief.
“We leave it broad for council because they know what’s best for this community and council would know where it would go,” says Dudek adding “We want to illustrate we have the strength to stand behind our projects.”
He adds the money is in addition to any cash NextEra would payout to improve any roads and bridges it may damage while building the wind farm.
Not everyone was impressed by the offer. “Bribe!” yelled a resident from the back of the room. “Speak up please! We can’t hear your bribes!”
Marcelle Brooks of Middlesex Lambton Wind Concerns told Sarnia This Week the money would only be there “provided the wind farm is still running and functioning.
“So when NextEra loses its FIT contract – it’s subsidies – it is going to walk from the farm and we can’t do anything about it. So to think that they’re putting money into the community for the next 20 years, that’s the best case scenario.
“That is unlikely to happen.”
Even Lambton Shores councilors were skeptical. Councilor Doug Cook questioned how the company came up with the figure (it is the same as was negotiated after a project in Haldimand County based on $3,500 per kilowatt produced) and whether the funds value was set in stone. “They negotiated their own, we should be able to negotiate our own,” says Cook.
“This is what we’re committing to in other communities,” said Ross Groffman, NextEra Development Officer. “It’s not really (up for discussion). We want it to be consistent.”
Josie Hernandez of NextEra says the company’s intentions are good. “We’re not paying a lot of property taxes right now because it’s not set up for that so, what we did was a percentage was calculated by our finance folks that we could offer back that in Texas or California could be used to help the community. But it’s not set up here (in Canada) like that so, let’s do it ourselves,” says Hernandez.
“So to hear that (reaction), it doesn’t make sense to us because what we’re doing is continuing to try to assist the community with what they’re doing.
“We’re going to be part of the community so we want to make sure everyone gets a share of the profits.”
And NextEra may be the only company offering community assistance. As soon as it completed discussions with Lambton Shores council, officials from Suncor, with its 100 megawatt, 62 turbine project, stepped to the podium. When asked if the company was prepared to invest as NextEra is, the answer was a flat no.
“We don’t have a community vibrancy fund,” says Dianne Zimmerman, strategic relations manager at Suncor Energy. “We have a formal charitable organization – Suncor Energy Foundation, which offers funding for education to communities…it has a particular energy focus…that foundation would be available for individuals or organizations to look for grants.
“We haven’t ever entered into one (community vibrancy fund),” added Zimmerman. “This is something we just learned about.”
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