Voices in the wilderness

First in a two-part series

In the midst of what they consider to be a deafening silence from government and company officials over a proposed massive wind-hydrogen project, residents of the Port ay Port Peninsula and their supporters say they are afraid the entire development may be a fait accompli, the roots of which extended back months and possibly years.

A document recently unveiled through access-to-information legislation raises new questions about the sequence of events that led to World Energy GH2 pitching what could be one of the largest such projects in the world.

The document summarizes a study completed in 2015 by Solas Energy Consulting for what was then Nalcor Energy that gives a resource assessment and capital cost estimates of various sizes of wind farms on the Port au Port Peninsula.

The party who requested the information had originally sought any wind assessments done for Nalcor between 2020 and 2022, but expanded the request when that search was non-responsive.

The name of the party is redacted, as are some sections of the report.

The study was conducted a little more than a year before Brendan Paddick was appointed chair of the Nalcor board.

Paddick is a friend of Premier Andrew Furey, and became a subject of scrutiny early in 2022 when he resigned from the board only a week before the province lifted a moratorium on land-based wind power.

A month later, World Energy GH2 announced its plans for a massive wind farm encompassing more than 40 per cent of the Port au Port acreage to power a proposed hydrogen plant in Stephenville.

Paddick is a member of the company’s board.

Opposition MHAs questioned the timing of events in the House of Assembly at the time.

About 50 residents attended a public meeting Saturday, Nov. 19, hosted by the local Environmental Transparency Committee, and attendees say the mood was one of escalating frustration.

According to a number of people The Telegram talked to, government and company representatives have ignored pleas for consultation.

“There should be more public input, and they shouldn’t be forcing it down people’s throat, like the Port au Port Peninsula,” said Paul Wylezol, co-chair of the International Appalachian Trail NL.

Wylezol, who endorses the potential for wind-to-hydrogen energy, has been a vocal skeptic of the project since Day 1. And others are becoming increasingly concerned.

“It’s kind of funny, the timing of all this,” Wylezol said. “They lifted the moratorium back in April, then all of a sudden this happened.”

Wylezol says the province doesn’t even have any basic guidance in place on wind energy.

Marilyn Rowe of Sheaves Cove said frequent correspondence from residents to politicians is going unanswered.

“I’m hoping that the government will start talking to the people out here,” Rowe said.

The project has created a rift between many local leaders and their constituents, and some believe that’s part of the goal of World Energy GH2.

Rowe says she has seen a draft of an agreement presented to the Port au Port Regional Wind Turbine Committee that includes a clause freezing communities out of a multimillion-dollar Community Vibrancy Fund if mayors publicly speak against the project.

She believes that’s one reason mayors are ignoring a survey undertaken by local service districts that shows 84 per cent of residents disapprove of the plan.

Another resident, Nadine Tallack, agrees.

“It seems like everything is being pushed through,” she said.

“We are the ones in the middle of it, and no one is reaching out to help us.”

Tallack says World Energy GH2 plans to use gigantic 200-metre turbines that are usually used offshore.

“It’s the size and the scope of the project, and the peninsula’s so small,” she said.

“It’s more concerning because this is a virgin company coming here.”

Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram