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Timeline for massive N.L. wind project ‘extremely ambitious,’ consultant says

While a proposed wind-energy project for Newfoundland’s west coast hit a speed bump earlier in August, a flock of global leaders, from politicians to international CEOs, is in Stephenville on Tuesday to sign a hydrogen deal between Canada and Germany. 

The project, put together by umbrella company World Energy GH2, needs more details and an environmental impact statement before the government of Newfoundland and Labrador gives it the go-ahead. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will be in Stephenville to sign an agreement early Tuesday evening, setting the stage for Canada to export hydrogen to Germany. 

The World Energy GH2 plan would see 164 wind turbines built throughout Newfoundland’s largely rural Port au Port Peninsula. Nearby Stephenville is where the company wants to build a plant where hydrogen produced by the wind turbines will be converted to ammonia.

That product would then be sold to Germany as it looks to transition away from Russian oil import to power its cities.

Delia Warren, a renewable energy consultant from St. John’s who works for the Boston-based firm Xodus, said Monday she was surprised when she heard about the Canada-Germany deal — and even more surprised when she learned of the scale of the proposed operation. 

“This is actually, in my opinion, an enormous opportunity for Newfoundland and Labrador. It would put us really as a first-mover in terms of developing this type of technology or putting this type of technology to work at scale,” said Warren.

“It would really set the stage for Newfoundland and Labrador to be a world leader.”

But Warren has concerns, and she’s not alone. Since the Port au Port proposal was announced, residents of the area and environmental advocacy groups have been raising red flags.

Shortage of skilled workers in U.S.

In a media release Monday, the company said the project is “expected to deliver 1,800 direct construction jobs, 300 direct operations jobs and 3,500 indirect jobs.”

Warren said those numbers seem accurate but she would like to see a full economic benefits assessment to see what the actual impact will be on the province and a workforce assessment to see the availability of the workforce.

“One of the major issues in the United States’ offshore wind build-out is a lack of trained workforce for the construction of industry,” she said. 

“I know in Newfoundland and Labrador we have a strong population of trades workers.… I hope the project will do more research to determine if those people have the skills required for the build-out of this project.”

Renewable energy consultant Delia Warren says the timeline for the proposed wind-energy farm on the Port au Port Peninsula is ambitious. (Heather Gillis/CBC)

Another concern is the timeline of the operation. World Energy GH2 expects the wind farm, when it’s operational and passes its final governmental hurdles, to produce hydrogen and ammonia by the middle of 2024. 

Warren said that’s an “extremely ambitious” target.

“But where’s there a will, there’s a way. Where there’s adequate funding, there’s a way. When there’s a need, you can get things done. The technology exists, it has been tested,” she said.

“My main concern with the timeline … would be delays caused by an inadequate consultation process.” 

‘Huge potential’

But the timeline may be a deciding factor on whether Newfoundland and Labrador gets in on a potentially lucrative industry.

Federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said Canada is interested in helping Germany and other countries find sources of energy to deal with the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine this winter. 

Two men in business suits talk quietly while walking in a banquet hall
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz take their seats at a dinner in Toronto on Monday. They will be in Stephenville Tuesday to sign an agreement on exporting hydrogen energy to Germany. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

“Others are looking at this, too, and it means that you actually have to be strategic and you have to move quickly,” Wilkinson said Monday. 

“As they look to accelerate the energy transition and certainly in Atlantic Canada, there are enormous resources and other resources that can be useful in the context of creating hydrogen to help our European friends.”

Wilkinson said he has been driving a hydrogen-powered car for about three years.

Stephenville Mayor Tom Rose said he’s excited to host Trudeau and Scholz, calling the opportunity a proud moment for his community and Canada. 

Rose said the wind-energy proposal for Port au Port and the ammonia plant in his community has “huge potential.”

“There’s a lot of checkboxes for Stephenville. This is a new energy of the future,” he said.

“Canada, I guess, is stepping up to the plate — more in particular, Stephenville, Newfoundland, Canada.”

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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