A controversial donation made by a wind power company to the County of Lambton should never have happened without council's authorization, say several county politicians.
“I just think this body has lost all its integrity,” Plympton-Wyoming Mayor Lonny Napper told council colleagues Wednesday. “If you're an unwilling host [of wind turbines], you're in for the long run or you're in there for lip service.”
In December, the Cedar Point II Wind Power Project, then owned by Suncor Energy and NextEra Energy, announced they'd be donating $200,000 to Lambton's Creative County Fund which supports local heritage, arts and cultural projects.
The county-administered fund is managed by a committee which includes several county councillors.
But their political colleagues – including Napper, a high-profile municipal opponent of wind turbines – were blindsided when news of the donation went public in December.
County council hadn't been formally notified of nor approved the donation, despite its very public stance on the issue of industrial wind turbines.
In the last few years, council has declared the County of Lambton an unwilling host of industrial turbines, as well as participated in a Divisional Court case and two Environmental Review Tribunal cases all on wind farm projects.
“Common sense says there would be issues with this donation,” said Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley.
Lambton County council took a first step Wednesday in addressing the misstep and ensuring it won't happen again by adopting a new policy.
All county financial and policy decisions involving wind turbine companies must now come to council for approval.
A staff report has also been commissioned to detail for council the county's process for accepting donations.
While the new policy earned broad council support Wednesday, Deputy Lambton Shores Mayor Doug Cook – who voted against the motion along with Oil Springs Mayor Ian Veen – said he felt council shouldn't single out specific types of companies.
“I didn't think it was fair to isolate one issue over another when other groups protest against other companies and we accept money from them,” he said.
Last week, Suncor Energy sold its share in Cedar Point II – a 46-turbine project spread out across Plympton-Wyoming, Lambton Shores and Warwick Township – to Toronto's Fiera Infrastructure.
Local anti-wind activist Santo Giorno presented county council Wednesday with the time line of events surrounding the Cedar Point II donation based on documents he obtained through a Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act request.
According to those documents, Giorno said a Suncor staffer first approached a county staffer with the donation offer in September, but that Suncor staffer requested the donation be finalized in December, so an announcement could be made at two planned events during that time.
A little more than a month later, Suncor sold its share in the Cedar Point II wind farm project.
“This was a publicity play,” Giorno told council Wednesday. “They wanted to dress up the project and make it presentable for a sale.
“There's nothing wrong with that, but I'm feeling a bit irritated that they used the county and the county committee as part of their plan to improve the image of the project.”
Despite the circumstances around the donation, Giorno said he believes everyone – including county staff and the elected officials who were in the know – had the best interests of the county at heart when they accepted the money.
He acknowledged it's difficult for unwilling host communities to decide whether to treat wind power companies as “piranhas or upstanding citizens.”
“I think the answer is somewhere in the middle,” he said. “We need to have that discussion.”