Wind energy companies have requested almost 1.6 million hectares of Crown lands in Newfoundland be put up for auction, but the provincial industry minister says not all of it will be.
According to a press release from the Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture on Monday, five companies have applied to place meteorological evaluation towers on 19 pieces of Crown land in eastern and western Newfoundland.
The towers would be used to test if placing a turbine to create wind energy is viable in the area.
Eight sites have been approved, one site has been rejected and all others are still under evaluation, according to the department.
The total area of interest for wind projects covers almost 1.6 million hectares: over 972,000 hectares in western Newfoundland and 622,000 hectares in eastern Newfoundland.
On Tuesday, Industry, Energy and Technology Minister Andrew Parsons said the requested areas are the result of three months of meetings with industry leaders.
But residents shouldn't worry that wind turbines will fill every area of interest, he said, since not all of it will actually be up for bid when the process begins in December.
"What we've come up with is this wide swath now that is going out for consultation," Parsons said.
"I don't think for a second that all the lands that have been identified there is what's going to be actually up for bid. That's why we're going through this consultation process."
Some areas of notice have been removed from the final map, Parsons said, including the Lewis Hills area, a section of the Long Range Mountains in western Newfoundland.
The area is highly touted by World Energy GH2, a company leading the push to introduce wind energy and hydrogen production to Newfoundland.
Parsons said the land isn't guaranteed to be exempt from development forever but certain areas of the island need to be recognized as having more value as a natural habitat than for development.
"If we are going to compromise sensitive ecological areas, if we're going to compromise areas with caribou patterns there, maybe that's not where we want to go," Parsons said Wednesday.
"[But] I think that's ridiculous to say that a certain area is forever off the table for absolutely anything."
Other areas have been excluded as they would require Indigenous consultation or further community consultation, Parsons said.
In a statement to CBC News on Wednesday, a spokesperson for World Energy GH2 said a final decision for development in Lewis Hills hasn't been made as there are "multiple technical decisions that need to be taken into account."
Paul Wylezol, chairperson of the Newfoundland chapter of the International Appalachian Trail, part of which runs through the area, said the land being left out of the first round of bidding is a good sign.
"We knew this area was very, very significant both ecologically and geologically," he said Wednesday.
"Obviously you can't guarantee at this stage that there can't be any development down the road, a change of government or what have you, because there isn't any formal, any official protection for the area. And so that's what we'd like to see now."
Wylezol says he's not against the idea of development and wind power but he'd like to see the Lewis Hills area get official wildlife protection status to preserve the area.
Parsons said the provincial government will hold engagement sessions with stakeholders later this month, but consultation in communities included in wind energy plans has already happened — in many cases through the proponents themselves.
"We feel that there's going to be plenty of opportunities to express people's opinions on this," he said.