An environmental assessment for a one-gigawatt, 164-turbine wind farm/green hydrogen and ammonia park in rural Newfoundland is generating local concern about potential habitat impacts, while picking up some high-powered support for the community benefits the project would bring.
The story is developing as the Innu Nation works its way through a feasibility study with Fortescue Future Industries, a division of Australian industrial giant Fortescue Metals Group, for a green hydrogen project attached to a proposed 2,250-GW hydropower project at Gull Island. It’s a site on the Lower Churchill River in Labrador that provincial utility Nalcor has been touting [pdf] for its hydro potential for at least a decade.
Fortescue has been interested in Gull Island since April, 2020, and signed a memorandum of understanding with the Innu in October, 2021, SaltWire reported in January. “Fortescue is all about, and has, a singular mandate of producing green hydrogen and bringing a new energy pathway to the world that’s not dependent on fossil fuels,” said Stephen Appleton, the country’s Canadian country manager. “And so, wherever there is a renewable source, such as a freshwater source, we’re interested in seeing if that location and that community would like to work with us to see if green hydrogen can be produced.”
The clock began ticking on the wind farm project June 21, when the four-member World Energy GH2 partnership filed a proposal with the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Environment and Climate Change for the Port au Port-Stephenville Wind Power and Hydrogen Generation Project, Wreckhouse Weekly News reports. The wind farm, also known as Project Nujio’qonik GH2, would generate up to a gigawatt of electricity from a maximum 164 onshore turbines on the Port Au Port Peninsula, on Newfoundland’s west coast.
It would include associated transmission and support infrastructure for a 500-megawatt hydrogen and ammonia facility at the port of Stephenville.
Provincial Energy Minister Andrew Parsons lifted a 15-year ban on onshore wind turbines April 5, just three days before federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault issued what one critic called a “slap in the face” to climate action by approving the C$9.4-billion Bay du Nord offshore oil and gas megaproject.
The province has set a July 27 deadline for public comment on the proposed wind farm, and Environment and Climate Minister Bernard Davis is expected to announce a decision August 5.
Cape St. George Mayor Stella Cornect said it was a shock for some community members to learn the true scope of the project.
“We cannot speak for the other towns or communities on the peninsula, but the proposed turbines in our town are in sensitive wildlife areas, in protected water supply areas, and along the Kittiwake Trail where hundreds of birds are nesting,” she wrote in an open letter. “We are greatly concerned for the birds of prey at risk, migrating birds, the rare flora such as the Mackenzie Sweetvetch, as well as 33 other endangered species located on the Limestone Barrens within the municipal planning boundary of Cape St. George.”
World Energy GH2 representatives were to meet with local leadership from Cape St. George and Lourdes a couple of weeks ago, CBC writes. “We just want to hear their side of it,” Cornect said at the time. “We want to hear what they have to say first. We are not for or against wind turbines, we just want to hear the reasoning behind putting the turbines at Cape St. George.”
Samantha Turrett, a resident of Three Rock Cove, told Wreckhouse News she isn’t against progress, is all about creating full-time and permanent job to bring people back home, but she is not looking forward to having the peninsula’s landscape changed.
“From my living room window, I can see wildlife grazing in the fields and a big, beautiful line of green trees as far as the eye can see on the ridge that separates our community from Lower Cove and Sheaves Cove. I’m not ready to give that up. There are plenty of areas that the turbines could be placed that would not interfere with local habitation.”
Turrett said anything that can create jobs is a wonderful addition to the economy, but was concerned that the work on a project like this—like many in Newfoundland and Labrador in the past—would go to out-of-province workers.
“The Muskrat Falls project was supposed to yield years of gainful employment for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, while in turn giving the people cheaper power and energy rates. We all know how that went, so I will leave it at that! How do we know that the turbine project will yield full-time and permanent positions to our locals?”
Turrett said she grew up in Saint John, New Brunswick, but spent every summer for 25 years coming home with her parents to the Port au Port Peninsula and fell in love with the area, permanently relocating there when she was 25. She said she’s afraid the beauty that draws people to the area be lost with the installation of the turbines.
John Risley, former chair of the Nature Conservancy of Canada, said it would be possible to “create habitats away from these wind farms that will actually entice waterfowl.” But Turrett vowed to fight the project, vowing that she and other locals would not “go down without a fight”.
Stephenville Mayor Tom Rose pointed to the benefits of the project.
“I look at wind farms across this country,” he said. “I’ve travelled from here to Alberta and, when I see wind farms and windmills, I don’t find them unsightly. I find there is beauty in them because it’s a clean, green technology and it’s innovation. It’s not putting emissions into the air like fossil fuels would. Fossil fuels do their part for the economy and I’m not knocking them, but I’m just saying this is innovative. It’s right across this country. It’s right across the globe. It’s where this industry is going.”
Rose said the region has seen many peaks and valleys, but the local economy hasn’t seen a real boom in over 50 years.
“When a mom or a dad doesn’t have to go away to work, they don’t have to leave their family, their children, and their loved ones, and they could possibly go to work here, go home every night to their own bed. That’s a lot to be said for the social impact of what a project like this means.”
He added: “Some people complain we don’t have good roads. Some people complain we don’t have enough doctors. Well, let me tell you something. Without economy and without industry, you’re not going to have taxation and money at all levels of government so you can get better roads, so you can attract more doctors, so you can have a more robust airport.”
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