A company looking to build a controversial wind farm on Amherst Island has quietly offered Loyalist Township an payment of $7.5 million annually, the Whig-Standard has learned.
But the proposal doesn’t sit well with the head of a group opposed to the construction, who decried the payments as shameful.
Janet Grace, president of the Association for Protection of Amherst Island, said she believes the proposed payment is a response to mounting pressure from community members opposing the project.
The offer – which is conditional upon final approval from the province – would see the power company forward a voluntary payment of $7.5 million to Loyalist Township each year, beginning in 2014.
Sean Fairfield, senior manager of project planning for Algonquin Power, said the draft agreement is based on the capacity, or price per megawatt, of the 33-turbine wind farm.
The facility is expected to generate 247 megawatts of electricity annually.
“We want to build a partnership with the community,” Fairfield said. “Looking into our modelling, we felt ($7.5 million per year) was reasonable.
“We believe that offering this would help the municipality in relation to another project they may have.”
The draft agreement was presented to Loyalist Township council last month, but wasn’t released to the public until late last week.
The proposed money would be provided by the “Community Vibrancy Fund,” created by Windlectric Inc., a subsidiary of Algonquin Power.
Windlectric has proposed that 50% of the annual payment, or $3.75 million, be allocated to Amherst Island specifically.
When asked about criticism by some who call the proposed payment a bribe to the municipality, Fairfield said it is customary for the company to offer municipalities incentives.
“We try to partner up with various communities that we’re involved in,” he said. “We like to initiate these types of agreements in some form.”
“There’s so much community opposition to this project and I think that they’re feeling the heat a little bit,” she said. “It is very obvious that our community does not welcome this development.”
Opponents of the project have claimed the turbines will cause property values to decline, will destroy wildlife and cause negative health effects for those on the island.
“The bottom line is that Amherst Island is just too small of an island to be putting up this size of project,” Grace said. “It will completely blanket the island with wind turbines.”
Grace said the money offered to the municipality by the power company does not compare to the impact the project will have on the island.
“To sacrifice the quality of life for that amount of money is an insult,” she said.
Duncan Ashley, township councillor for Amherst Island, said council was presented with the offer with a request for it to remain confidential.
He said the potential contract was received in a closed session of council, and has been forwarded to lawyers for review.
Council is scheduled to discuss the contract with solicitors in another closed session on April 30, he said.
“We are looking for expert advice on what the agreement may mean,” Ashley said. “Is it an opportunity, is it a liability, does it compromise the municipality’s and council’s ability to represent the entire municipality and not just one Ward 1 on Amherst Island.
Amid criticism from opponents that the money is intended to influence councillors, Ashley said he prefers to reserve his judgment on the potential agreement until it is discussed with lawyers.
“The financial offer definitely muddies the waters,” he said. “I definitely want to find out from the experts what the prize or what the pitfalls of that offer are.”
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