‘No need to rush’ on wind farm impact assessment, says environmental group

An environmental group on Newfoundland’s west coast says it supports a proposed wind-to-hydrogen project for the Port au Port Peninsula in principle but doesn’t want the impact assessment or consultation process rushed for what could be a precedent-setting project for the province .

Katie Temple, the executive director of the Western Environment Center of Newfoundland, said while the World Energy GH2 proposal could help reduce reduce fossil fuel dependence, the process seems to be “happening very quickly,” given the provincial moratorium on wind development in the province was lifted just in April.

World Energy GH2 said it wants to produce hydrogen by the middle of 2024, and with that speedy timeline in mind, Temple is urging extra caution in the environmental approval and permitting processes.

“I think a longer and more involved consultation process would be appropriate and that the speed was definitely one of the concerns that we had,” she said Thursday.

The project proposes to use renewable wind energy to create green hydrogen and then ship it to Europe.

The project and province were on the world stage earlier this week when Canada and Germany formed what Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a “hydrogen alliance” as Germany stares down an energy crisis following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and drastic cut to its gas exports.

Katie Temple, the executive director of the Western Environment Center of Newfoundland, said the impact assessment of the project shouldn’t be rushed, or else it could set a precedent for future proposals. (Submitted by Katie Temple)

Temple said the group is happy to see the project go through the environmental assessment process because she says it’s something they advocated for, but wants to see all three turbine sites — in Port au Port, near the Lewis Hills and in the Bay St. George South area — assessed rather than just ones in the first phase of the project, in Port au Port.

“The whole region has ecosystems that are environmentally sensitive and so it makes sense to do a full environmental impact assessment for that whole area.… There’s no need to rush into this,” said Temple.

Temple says the process needs to be done right because it could set a precedent for other wind-to-hydrogen projects in the province.

But Kieran Hanley, the CEO of Econext, a business association that advocates for clean growth, would like to see wind to hydrogen proponents move through the environmental assessment and permitting process ‘expeditiously’ while still upholding high standards.

“If these sorts of things happen in a short timeline, Newfoundland and Labrador is best positioned in Canada to do these things … we would also be on the leading edge of this emerging industry on a global scale,” Hanley said.

He said environmental concerns about wind turbines, like their effect on migratory birds and bats, are not insurmountable and can be mitigated.

In this map of the proposed wind farm project, each red dot represents a wind turbine. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

Hanley also said Newfoundland and Labrador has all the ingredients needed for wind-to-hydrogen development: lots of wind, fresh water to produce hydrogen, a workforce used to working on megaprojects, and ports in relatively close proximity to Europe.

“We are making, as a province, a very, very tangible contribution to global problems, one of which of course being climate change and the other being energy security for our partners and allies in Europe, like Germany,” said Hanley.

Kieran Hanley says Newfoundland and Labrador is in a position to be on the leading edge of a new industry with wind to hydrogen projects. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

Premier Andrew Furey agrees with Hanley’s assessment of the province’s opportunity to be at the forefront of the sector.

“It’s not often in history that any province, country or people are on the verge of a new industry, but yet here we are,” Furey said Thursday.

The premier said World Energy GH2 is not the only company knocking on Newfoundland and Labrador’s door to build wind projects. The province has been talking to about a dozen companies interested in developing projects in the province, with each one proposing upwards of $10 billion in private investment.

“So if even if a few of these — two of these — take hold and become a substantial project, then we’re talking a significant investment in the economy of Newfoundland and Labrador,” Furey said.

A man in a suit smiles and waves at supporters.  He is flanked by a woman and two men.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau waves to locals gathered outside the airport fence as he walks with Long Range Mountains Liberal MP Gudie Hutchings, left, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey, second from right, and Labor Minister Seamus O’Regan, right, as he arrives in Stephenville, NL, on Tuesday to sign a hydrogen agreement with Germany. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The premier said wind-to-hydrogen developments could create spinoffs in the supply chain and jobs for support staff, maintenance and operations.

“I’m not saying that this is a panacea, that this is what’s going to save Newfoundland and Labrador [but] this is the responsible move right now,” he said.

Furey said he’s confident the project’s timeline is doable, and stressed that government processes will be open, transparent and equal for all potential developers.

The premiere also said Canada and Germany’s hydrogen agreement is a historic one.

“The fact that the German chancellor, vice-chancellor and over 50 CEOs from Germany came to Newfoundland and Labrador — first time two sitting world leaders have been in the province that I can tell since 1941 with the Atlantic Charter — speaks to the legitimacy of the industry and the legitimacy of our place in it,” he said.

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