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Battle of the bookings: Opponents snatch small victories against NextEra Energy

Wind energy opponent Esther Wrightman freely admits she uses underhanded tactics. “Was it devious? Absolutely,” she said with a chuckle Monday.

Wrightman was referring to booking a meeting room at the Ailsa Craig Recreation Centre for a gathering Tuesday at 4 p.m.

The devious part? The company Wrightman opposes, NextEra Energy, wanted that slot. NextEra officials have now been relegated to holding their information session about the company’s proposed 50-turbine wind farm near Parkhill in a pavilion outside the rec centre.

“Whatever opportunities are there, we take them,” said Wrightman, who belongs to an organization called Middlesex-Lambton Wind Action Group. “We don’t have many options left.”

The tussle over the meeting venue is the latest skirmish in the action group’s determined campaign to keep wind turbines out of Lambton and Middlesex counties.

The issue is so charged that police have twice been called to municipal council meetings and the owner of local restaurant cancelled a booking for a meeting about wind turbines for fear of protests.

When members of the Middlesex-Lambton Wind Action Group approached the municipality about booking the rec centre, they couldn’t believe there was an opening.

NextEra also ran into issues last week for a project in nearby Kerwood when it wasn’t able to book a venue where it had already told residents an open house was to take place.

That meeting, for July 12, hasn’t been rescheduled. A separate open house for the Kerwood project is still scheduled for July 11.

The Parkhill area project, nicknamed the Bornish wind farm, is north of the Kerwood project.

Scott Nickles, the recreation manager for North Middlesex, said he doesn’t know whose end the error was on, the municipality’s or NextEra’s.

“I’ve been here 16 years, I’ve never had this happen before,” he said.

Because the 4 p.m. slot was snatched up by wind energy opponents, NextEra had to look for an alternative.

“They’re going to use a pavilion,” Nickles explained. Meanwhile, those opposed to the projects will meet inside at the same time.

Josie Hernandez, a spokesperson for NextEra, said the company plans to bring in security for the Tuesday event.

“We typically bring in security. It’s not something that we want to do,” she said Monday.

She said her team’s goal is to be able to answer questions from the public and hand out information showing that wind energy is safe.

“We hope that it’s respectful and it goes well,” she said.

“We see this at the beginning of a project. It’s almost like a cycle,” Hernandez said of the opposition to the turbines. She points out that NextEra, a Florida company with its Canadian head office in Burlington, has eight wind projects in Ontario.

NextEra will also hold a second meeting Wednesday at 4 p.m., this time inside the rec centre.

Wrightman said her group will continue to seize any opportunities to stall such projects and get their message across.

“Honestly, when a company messes up that much, the Ministry of the Environment should be looking into it,” she said about the booking mix-up.