One of the executives behind a proposed plan to create a hydrogen plant in western Newfoundland says he doesn't believe the connection between Premier Andrew Furey and the project's billionaire chairman is a conflict of interest.
Their connection was first reported earlier this month, after news outlet AllNewfoundlandLabrador reported Furey and his father stayed at the Rifflin' Hitch Lodge for a fishing trip in July 2021.
The lodge is owned by businessman John Risley, chairman of World Energy GH2, a company looking to set up a wind-powered hydrogen-ammonia plant on the Port au Port Peninsula.
Furey's political opponents said the trip puts the premier in a conflict of interest. However, Furey said he paid for the trip himself and that he has made sure no decisions related to the project will come across his desk.
Asked about the matter during a presentation in St. John's Friday, World Energy director Sean Leet sided with the premier.
"Whenever you're initiating a new industry, a project of this nature, you're bound to have different issues that come up," Leet told reporters Friday.
"And I don't think there's any conflict on the premier's part or on the part of our senior management team. Everyone's trying to do the right thing to kick-start this industry, and get us positioned to take advantage of this massive, unprecedented opportunity."
Businessman Brendan Paddick, another personal friend of Furey's, is also a director at World Energy GH2.
Asked if he's concerned about the connections and the project becoming a political issue, Leet said he's more focused on having the right people in their corner to help grow the renewable energy industry in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The three-phased plan is expected to cost upwards of $16 billion. When completed, Leet said it could produce more than three gigawatts of power — over three times the amount the Muskrat Falls project is expected to produce.
Canada has an agreement with Germany to begin supplying hydrogen by 2025, which Leet says fuels an accelerated timeline to keep development moving.
"There's a short window that we have where we can get the equipment in time….Of course we want to meet Canada's commitment to Germany to supply the first green hydrogen in 2025," he said.
"We've got significant resources invested in the project already. We're moving it forward as quickly as possible while doing all the environmental work and stakeholder engagement work that's required in parallel."
Leet said the deadline for a decision on final investment is a moving target given the timeline and industry development, but expects the decision to be made sometime next spring.