DENBIGH – A group fighting proposed wind energy projects in Lennox and Addington County filed a complaint with the United States Justice Department against the project’s American parent companies.
The complaint was filed earlier this month by John Laforet of the public relations firm Broadview Strategy Group Inc. and supported by the group Bon Echo Area Residents Against Wind Turbines (BEARAT).
The complaint alleged that Florida-based NextEra Energy and Colorado-based Renewable Energy Systems Americas violated the United States’ Foreign Corrupt Practices Act when their Canadian subsidiaries offered financial compensation in exchange for resolutions of municipal support.
“I was taken fairly aback by the money-for-votes approach that both NextEra and RES Canada took when dealing with councils,” said Laforet, who was president of Wind Concerns Ontario from 2000 to 2011.
“Unlike community benefit or vibrancy agreements that exist elsewhere in Ontario, these are being negotiated as a condition of a support resolution which will then benefit the proponent in receiving a contract from the provincial government.
“It’s no longer a goodwill measure, its a transaction. Money for support.”
The U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment about Laforet’s complaint.
Steve Stengel, a spokesperson for NextEra Energy Canada, said in an email to the Whig-Standard that the Justice Department complaint will not stand up to scrutiny.
“The claims of Mr. Carruthers and Mr. Laforet are completely without merit,” Stengel said. “NextEra Energy, Inc. and its affiliates work tirelessly to ensure that all contracts with local municipalities, entities, and individuals fully adhere to all Canadian and U.S. laws.”
Peter Clibbon, senior vice-president with RES Canada, said in an email that the company has not received a copy of the complaint.
“As a matter of policy, the company does not comment on pending litigation,” he said.
Provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act prohibit officials with American companies from making “payments to foreign government officials to assist in obtaining or retaining business.”
Laforet said that law should apply to American companies’ Canadian subsidiaries.
Protests and petitions by community groups across Ontario have failed to prevent wind energy projects from being built, said Ashby Lake resident Dan Carruthers, co-chair of the Bon Echo Area Residents Against Wind Turbines.
The Justice Department complaint is an effort to try something that hadn’t been tried before, he said.
“What we wanted to do was stay on step ahead of the proponents,” he said.
“We need to have a very novel approach to this problem, something that hasn’t been tried, something that will put these proponents off guard but is going to be effective.”
Carruthers said the complaint is meant to make the projects too unattractive for the Independent Electricity System Operator to approve.
“We want to make the North Frontenac-Addington Highlands proposals stink so much, just so toxic from a political and public relations point of view, that they are just going to say ‘We don’t want to touch this, we’re just going to stick it to the bottom of the pile. There are easier ones to pick,'” Carruthers said.
A community benefits package are fairly common with large renewable energy projects like these, said Queen’s University geography professor Warren Mabee, and are a good way to compensate the community and give residents a sense of ownership.
But Mabee said the justice department complaint is a tactic that he has never seen from an anti-turbine group.
“It could get very sticky,” said Mabee, director of Queen’s University’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy. “In all likelihood this is totally innocent and it is just a strategy by the companies to drive these projects forward with as few bumps as possible but it may backfire on them.”
Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator in the coming months is to award about 565 megawatts of new renewable energy contracts, including 300 megawatts of wind energy.
IESO spokesperson Alexandra Campbell said there are certain mandatory requirements that companies must meet in order for an application to be considered, including holding a public meeting and making sure local residents are informed about the project.
Community benefit agreements are not considered part of the mandatory process, she said.
“In terms of the project proponents’ discussions or engagements with either individuals or the municipality, we don’t have rules or are involved in those,” Campbell said.
“If a proponent and a municipality have met, talked about needs or there have been agreements, that is not something we are a part of. We sort of say ‘Do you have community support? Show us the documentation.’ And that is kind of the end of our role.”
NextEra and RES-Canada are among more than 40 companies approved to bid for the renewable energy contracts from the Ontario government.
RES-Canada is proposing to build 170-megawatt Denbigh Wind LP and NextEra Energy Canada is proposing its 200-megawatt Northpoint II project in Addington Highlands Township.
According to the minutes of the June 15 township council meeting, Stephen Cookson of RES-Canada told councillors the company would provide $25,000 in bursaries, $30,000 a year during development and an ongoing community benefit fund of $2,000 per megawatt in the project.
In a June 5 presentation to council, a delegation from NextEra Energy Canada told councillors the company would offer annually $1,750 per megawatt produced.
Both companies asked for a resolution of support from council, which would strengthen their applications to the Independent Electricity System Operator.
Addington Highlands Township council voted 3-2 in favour of supporting both projects on July 20.
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