“Basically, we couldn’t stop them.”
That from Plympton-Wyoming Mayor Lonny Napper after Suncor Energy received its permits to start building the Cedar Point Wind Energy Centre. It’s a move the municipality has fought at every turn, but in the end, had to allow or face another court battle and the possibility of stiff financial penalties.
The County of Lambton, which handles planning issues for Plympton-Wyoming, issued the permits – worth $378,000 – Friday.
Suncor spokesman Jason Valliant says the permits are “an important step in the construction process” adding the company will now complete a detailed construction plan. He expects the earliest the shovel will be in the ground is January.
But getting the permits didn’t come without a fight. Valliant says Suncor has a contract with the Ontario Power Authority which requires it to have the turbines online producing power by 2016. “Failing to meet the terms of the contract will result in penalties to Suncor,” he said in an email to The Independent.
But Plympton-Wyoming was doing everything in its power to delay the process. The Ministry of the Environment gave final approval for the project in late August but by early October, the company had yet to receive permits.
Plympton-Wyoming was holding off until an agreement could be reached on how the turbines would be decommissioned and what could be done to the drainage in the area where negotiated.
While the negotiations were ongoing, Suncor filed a motion to compel the municipal to issue the permits.
“Our contract with the Ontario Power Authority requires us to have this project operational in 2016. In order to meet this deadline, Suncor needs to have construction plans in place and building permits are an important component of the process,” says Valliant in the email.
“There were some challenges in the issuance of our building permits and Suncor filed a court motion to ensure that our project timelines do not contravene our contract with the province.”
Napper says council was faced with the situation in late September and early October. He says Suncor was threatening to seek damages of $18,000 for every day the project was delayed.
“We pushed the limit on it – the legislation the way it is we didn’t have much choice…unless we wanted to gamble it and we have no grounds to really fight it,” says Napper.
“It wasn’t an easy decision…we had not a lot of choice…we’re a small municipality and we have to continue on,” he says noting the financial penalties could have been very high.
Plympton-Wyoming is already facing some legal costs because of the Suncor fight. Justice M.A. Garson ordered the town to pay just under $60,000 of Suncor’s $300,000 legal bill in the battle over the municipalities restrict wind turbine setbacks.
Suncor’s legal maneouvering doesn’t sit well with Napper and his collegues on council.
“They tried to bully I would think…and they use that (legal move)as a threat… They’ve tried hard but they shove some of this stuff down our throat,” he says.
“You end up in a big fight like that you can bankrupt yourself.”
But Napper believes Plympton-Wyoming has “got a little bit more out of them than some others.”
The town’s building permits for turbines are higher than most municipalities and it recently approved an agreement which regulates how the turbines will be taken down and holds the company financially responsible for them.
And he says the municipality continues to try to stop the project through an Environmental Review Tribunal Hearing which starts today (Thursday) in Camlachie.
“We’re not done fighting them yet.”
For its part, Suncor is looking ahead to construction saying once the plans are finalized “we will share our construction plans with the community and continue the dialogue with our stakeholders.”