Big industry criticism heightens due diligence

·6 min read

WEST COAST — Across the province, on the heels of the international heads of state visit to Stephenville, wind energy development seems to be full speed ahead, but hurdles still remain.

With accelerated timelines and agreements being signed, the Global Energy GH2 project on the Port au Port Peninsula only needs provincial government approval to begin production. The project has seen significant resistance from residents of the communities who will be most affected by the placement of the wind turbines, and this is not the first time a large-scale project has been met with such resistance in the region.

Less than a year ago, the sale of the Stephenville Regional Airport to Dymond Group of Companies received tremendous backlash from some who believed the deal was not what it appeared to be, and worried that the delays meant more inevitable disappointment and broken promises. However, that deal was officially signed and the focus on bigger area development has shifted to the proposed wind energy projects.

Stephenville Mayor Tom Rose maintains that larger industries coming to the region to set up shop and harness our resources, including potential workforce, is an important and necessary step forward.

“You get into a position being a mayor of a community, you have a lot of responsibilities to the citizens, but I think one of the responsibilities is to grow the community, be a ‘cool’ community, be innovative, attract the type of companies and industries, and it transcends down to family. In order to keep our families together, you’ve got to have jobs,” explained Rose. “I've always believed that Stephenville had something so unique, and that was the infrastructure."

Rose is keen on developing the town's potential.

“There’s an energy revolution happening right now – with wind and with solar – they are new energy platforms that will fuel the economies of the future. The oil and gas sector will still play a critical role, it’s just that there is transitioning that’s happening. It’s a great time for Stephenville.”

Rose said that the arrival of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz last week was the most important day in his political career.

“It doesn’t matter what industry comes, you are going to have people against it, whether it’s the airport and Carl Dymond or wind development. To me, they are just uniformed citizens who need to be informed and educated about it. From my perspective they are wrong, but they do play a role because they actually heighten the due diligence on these projects. So in a small way they play an important role, but it is frustrating to see, at times, when you’re trying to do good for your community and there’s a small fraction – that could be a couple of percentiles in your population – but they’re vocal and we’re in Canada and we have the right to freedom of speech, but I’m on the side of this development, not the protesters.”

MHA Andrew Parsons (Burgeo – LaPoile), Minister of Industry, Energy, and Technology, said questioning, inquiring, and investigation are important aspects to any major project within the province.

“There’s nothing wrong with people doing that. We should do that. One of the reasons for that is we have a history that is burned into our collective psyche. Look at the Churchill deal. People went along with it. That one hasn’t cost us per se, but we’ve lost out on billions in profits because of the deal. Then you look at Muskrat. The majority of people went along with it, and look where we are now. We have a project that cost us billions and billions and billions more than it was supposed to and it’s still not operational – had to have an inquiry,” said Parsons. “So we come now where we’ve got all these new opportunities – especially something new like wind and hydrogen – and people are just generally afraid that we’re going to sign on to something and not get the full value for it, and I hardly think that’s a bad thing.”

Parsons explained that if the provincial government cannot properly explain the steps it takes, that’s on them, not the people who are expressing their concerns,

“You have some people who are going to complain about everything. It doesn’t matter what I say. It doesn’t matter what I do. They are going to oppose. I’m not worried about that crowd. What I do worry about is those individuals who call me or email me, who aren’t committed one way or another. They're asking questions, trying to understand what’s going on and get a better feel for it. I've got all the time in the world for that.”

Matador Mining is a major industry on the Southwest Coast, but Parsons said that is a different scenario because mining is something that has been around the province for centuries.

“I’m really happy we are seeing some of it in our neck of the woods, so close. I do think there is a benefit there,” said Parsons. “When you look at the wind and hydrogen play where there’s so much information, it is moving extremely quickly for numerous reasons, and it’s brand new. And it’s not just brand new for Newfoundland and Labrador, it’s brand new for everywhere. There’s a lot of questions and the problem we have is there is so much to take in that people aren’t necessarily getting the best information or the correct information.”

Parsons believes there is a way to move forward with new industry while ensuring the landscape of the province is not sacrificed.

“I think the majority of people are worried about the impact of wind towers being set up all over the place – next to their home, right across their favourite trail, right in the middle of caribou breeding grounds. That's what people are worried about. I don’t think people are saying, “don’t do wind energy”. I think people are just worried about what it means, and that is a sensible worry.”

Despite the high profile signing in Stephenville, Parsons said nothing has yet been approved, and that the government is currently going through a process, but no one has any approval to do anything.

“Do I want the population that goes along willingly and just assumes everything we say is true? No. Nobody wants that. That’s not good for anybody. We need this kind of check and balance. We need people to question. Due diligence is a necessary component here,” said Parsons. “Part of it is I have to spend time dealing with deliberate misinformation. I have to spend time with people who are going to oppose based on no semblance of reality. I accept that is part of the process, but again, the biggest thing we can do here is ensure we do have a process so that, when it comes to this industry – and we have huge opportunities here – we need to move forward. We can’t just sit on our thumbs and hope that everything works out and we have all the time in the world. We don’t. There is a sense of urgency, but at the same time it has to be measured. It has to be balanced against a process and regulatory process to ensure we aren’t going to take on something that gives us greater liabilities down the road.”

Jaymie White, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wreckhouse Weekly News