Previous Karen Farbridge’s Administration’s $14M District Energy Was Sold for $8
Municipalities often pride themselves on public transparency, emphasizing their efforts to keep residents informed. However, it’s equally important to scrutinize when a city chooses not to disclose certain information.
After a lengthy Freedom Of Information process, a question that lingered for over a year has been answered: the amount Cascara Energy paid the City of Guelph for its downtown district energy system. The figure is surprisingly low at $8.
On June 27, 2022, Guelph announced the sale of this energy system to Cascara Energy. This system was the last remnant of a failed green energy initiative from the previous Karen Farbridge administration. Including legal costs from settling with Urbacon, the total loss on these projects together is over $22 million, a significant financial burden for Guelph taxpayers. It’s noted that Karen Farbridge has made political donations to many current councillors and candidates.
The system, located in the Sleeman Centre, was intended to be part of a larger plan to provide centralized heating and cooling to various locations, including the Hanlon Creek Business Park. However, the plan was met with little interest from potential users like Guelph General Hospital and the University of Guelph, leading to its failure and substantial financial loss for the city.
Despite the city’s celebration of selling the system to Cascara, the public was left in the dark about the sale price. The city initially refused to disclose this information, leading to a Freedom of Information request and subsequent appeal. After nearly 17 months, the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario intervened, compelling the city to reveal the details:
- Cascara paid $8 for the physical assets.
- Cascara pays $2 annually for space rental at the Sleeman Centre.
- Cascara is responsible for realty taxes.
- Cascara pays an annual $5,000 administrative fee to the city.
- The city receives a portion of any new business Cascara generates, capped at $4 million.
This revelation, however, wasn’t just about the monetary value; it highlighted the city’s reluctance to be transparent. The city had previously disclosed sale prices of land, contradicting its stance on withholding the Cascara deal details due to third-party involvement. Privacy Commission adjudicator Lan An concluded that there was no reasonable expectation of harm from disclosing this information.
Ultimately, this case underscores the importance of transparency, especially considering the significant taxpayer funds lost in the district energy system debacle. Citizens deserved to know the outcome of this financially burdensome project.