With hydrogen deal set for N.L., questions about proposed wind projects remain

Wind turbines near Assiniboine, Sask., stand 110 metres tall, with each blade spanning 47 metres. (Matt Duguid/CBC - image credit)
Wind turbines near Assiniboine, Sask., stand 110 metres tall, with each blade spanning 47 metres. (Matt Duguid/CBC - image credit)
Matt Duguid/CBC
Matt Duguid/CBC

With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz set to sign a hydrogen agreement in Stephenville, N.L., next week, concerned groups are still calling for more information about wind-energy projects proposed for areas of Newfoundland.

The chairperson of a group that oversees an international hiking trail network told CBC News his group wants more information about benefits, impacts and liabilities.

"We're not against wind power, wind development, resource development, but we see a major lack of information," said Paul Wylezol of the International Appalachian Trail, which has 23 chapters on three continents, with a section of trail running along Newfoundland's west coast.

"We don't really agree on the location. Newfoundland, the island alone, has 108,000 square kilometres. We don't feel like we should take our best, special places, the jewels in the crown, and develop them. We feel there's more than enough places that we can do this."

Wylezol isn't the first person to raise concerns about wind-energy projects in Newfoundland. A large-scale project proposed for the Port au Port Peninsula is still under fire from residents of the region who also want more information from government and the umbrella company behind the project World Energy GH2.

On Aug. 5 Environment Minister Bernard Davis ruled the Port au Port project — which is expected to include 164 wind turbines and a hydrogen plant in Stephenville — needed more details and an environmental impact statement before moving ahead.

But as Europe works to address its energy crisis and distance itself from Russian oil imports, N.L. officials see the overseas challenges as a lucrative opportunity to help address its own fiscal crisis. The Port au Port proposal would create green hydrogen from wind energy and export ammonia from the Stephenville plant to Germany to power its cities.

Federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault said Tuesday that his department and the Environmental Impact Assessment Agency of Canada are launching a regional assessment of wind development for Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia.

Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press
Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press

While Wylezol, residents and mayors have been vocal about their concerns about the Port au Port proposal, Guilbeault said he hasn't heard of any controversy.

"The reality is that we are moving away from fossil fuels," said Guilbeault, in St. John's this week participating in two offshore wind development workshops, among other items on his agenda.

"Fossil fuel consumption will be reduced by about 75 per cent in the next 30 years. We will still be using oil in 2050 but we will be using far less oil than we are now and one of the fuels that will be replacing fossil fuels will be hydrogen."

Hoping to lead the way

Meanwhile, Stephenville Mayor Tom Rose told CBC News he's proud that his community is hosting two heads of state to sign an energy deal. He's also on board with wind energy development.

Rose said the Port au Port project is scaled at about $12 billion.

"I look at it as a world energy crisis and we get to play a role in Stephenville, Newfoundland, Canada to solve these woes that exist now in the energy sector," said Rose.

"But the plan is to build three massive wind farms. These wind farms will produce three gigawatts. That's equal to about five to six times what Muskrat Falls is producing."

He said the zero-emission project aligns with his town's views and he's glad the province lifted the moratorium on wind energy development.

He said Newfoundland and Labrador could also become an energy hub for North America.

"Now there's others who want to come in and follow because the biggest check box we have is that we have a wind corridor that may be the best wind corridor in the world for wind energy," Rose said.

"Every industry has got the good, the bad and the ugly … but this is a green, no emissions project. This is the one you'd want to pick."

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