Test tower complaints latest push back on wind farm developments
Posted on August 24, 2023 | By Ashley Fitzpatrick | 0 Comments
World Energy GH2’s wind-hydrogen-ammonia development plans in Western Newfoundland are not sailing forward on entirely calm seas. In the latest, the company faces concerns from hunters and outfitters who say there is an urgent need to halt any placement of five wind measurement towers in an area North of Codroy, so as not to negatively affect the fall moose hunt there. The tower work could start this week.
At the same time, Atlantic Business Magazine has found the back and forth over the work is about more than the test towers. It’s also about the company’s more substantial development plans for the area, and speaks to the broader, complex challenge of achieving social license.
According to the province’s 2023 Hunting and Trapping Guide, bow hunting season for the area where wind test towers are now going up (Moose Management Area 9, covering a portion of the Anguille Mountains) will open on Aug. 26. The firearms season opens Sept. 9 and runs to the end of the year. There are more than 500 moose licences for the area.
“We’re flat out now getting ready,” said Art Ryan, speaking to ABM last week, clarifying “we” was the team at Mountain Top Outfitters. Ryan said he’s hunted the “perfect moose country” since he was in diapers and now works at giving other hunters the experience.
He said he fully expects the noise, machinery and human activity tied to World Energy GH2’s construction of “meteorological evaluation towers” (METs), the largest being about the size of a soccer field if laid down, will disturb the season and drive away at least a portion of the available moose.
The company has been actively listening to concerns about the towers from Ryan and others (Ryan said the company has participated in phone calls and public meetings). And a spokesperson said the company is searching for solutions, that it will “plan (the) wind measurement work to minimize any potential impact to outfitters’ businesses,” according to a statement sent in response to questions ahead of the start of the new test tower work.
Ryan also mentioned a proposal to helicopter in portions of the towers for example, though that wasn’t seen as much help given the noise associated with helicopter services.
The provincial government has pointed to the fact the test tower constructions will not physically touch the majority of the hunting area in question. Officials in Crown Lands have issued permits as of deadline for three of the five, temporary structures.
Outfitters can’t just hold off on starting their season, Ryan said. In his area, they’re booked end-to-end with tourists coming in from out-of-town, sometimes other parts of the province, and not infrequently with out-of-province hunting parties. For the longer term, moving outfitters is also not an option. “You can’t move the outfits because there’s really no place left on the island to move,” he said.
Could greater minimum distances for test towers from outfitting camps help? He doesn’t see it as a solution, as the literal lay of the land in a hunting area can mean hunters will leave camp and move into particular sites of varying distance from base camps. Animal populations will also move based on time of year and disturbances.
And really, Ryan’s main motivation in speaking publicly on the METs is not about five wind testing towers but the up-to-164 energy-producing wind turbines proposed to follow for the Anguille Mountains, with associated access roads. Another roughly 164 turbines are being proposed by World Energy GH2 for the Port au Port Peninsula, with hydrogen and ammonia production in-between, at Stephenville.
That next step of wind farm development and ammonia production could only follow a completed environmental review, with release from the government. But Ryan said he already doesn’t feel outfitters could affect the approval, as it “seems like they’re just going to go ahead and do it anyway, regardless.”
“It’s going to run outfitters out of business in Area 9,” he said.
He then presented the hypothetical alternative of a buy-out.
“Other than that, they get a package here, they buy-out the outfitters. Most outfitters, I think, may be willing to take the package or get bought out. I already told the company I’m not taking anything. I don’t want to get bought out and I don’t want a package. You keep it, and if you want to trample me to death and ruin my business you can do that, but I’m not taking nothing from you. I ain’t going down that way,” he said.
World Energy GH2’s wind-hydrogen-ammonia development is still under regulatory review, with a detailed environmental impact statement (EIS) submitted and publicly released Tuesday. In the filing, it’s suggested wind farm development might aid moose as new vegetation grows in after clearing of right of ways. The company also stated it could “open up lines-of-sight for hunters” and otherwise affect predator-prey dynamics, as moose are attracted to the right of ways cut into wooded area. It also noted moose were introduced to Newfoundland, and about 24,000 are harvested each year. The company pointed out World Energy GH2 does not issue hunting permits, and stated the project “will not change the amount of legal hunting.”
Atlantic Business Magazine reached out to the Newfoundland and Labrador Outfitters’ Association (NLOA) executive director Cory Foster by email on Aug. 10. An automatic reply said Foster was out of office, attending a tradeshow, and provided an alternative contact for anything urgent. That contact said they were unable to comment, but Foster would be in touch on his return. The magazine reached out after his return date a week later, at which time Foster said he would be unavailable for any questions until the 30th of August at the earliest, well after the start of the test tower construction in Area 9. He recommended questions be directed to individual outfitters, despite the fact the original request did state the magazine wanted to confirm the association’s stance on the issue. The request was also for due diligence, to confirm there had been meetings involving association representatives with World Energy GH2, with hopes of hearing—independent of World Energy GH2’s response—how the company is dealing with the association, and outfitter concerns. This was reiterated, along with the deadline for this piece, with no further response. Foster did state “most, if not all, outfitters in the area have met with World Energy GH2.” At this point, the magazine has not been able to reach all outfitters individually, though we have heard from other individuals in the area. We are unable to independently confirm if all outfitters in the area have, or even if all association members have, met with the company. To that extent, it cannot be fairly said to what extent the comments heard reflect outfitters, let alone hunters.
METs come with process
On a fundamental level, for any resident of Newfoundland and Labrador just coming to the topic of the preliminary METs, versus wind turbines and wind farms, anyone looking to vet responses from any private energy company, the federal government and the province have no general information sites on the towers. At least, nothing will pop up as a top result on government site searches and popular search engines, to show what might be reasonable expectations in Newfoundland and Labrador. A person is hard pressed to find information that might be considered independent of industry, or someone active in now-existing local conflicts over proposed development. That’s despite World Energy GH2 being just one in a wave of companies to make use of the towers on Crown lands now and in the coming years, tied to wind power development plans. The sheer number of applications for METs has spiked, given the encouragement of wind-hydrogen-ammonia developments in Newfoundland and Labrador.
There is no proactive disclosure from government to date on METs, with no public posting online of tower permit applications as they’re made (as occurs for, say, environmental assessment of wind farms), no display of permits issued, maps to show approved tower sites, and nothing showing approved changes to access roads that tend to be at the centre of comments on disruption to the environment, even for the towers that come at a preliminary stage for potential development. It leaves the door open to a range of circulating descriptions, accurate or not [Note: provincial government communications staff provided a map showing three approved MET sites for World Energy GH2 through Crown lands within two days on request, but most people would not make such a request].
The data on wind speeds gathered by METs is used to determine wind farm turbine placement for wind farm proposals, for the design and engineering of wind turbines and for long-term environmental data sets and monitoring.
When MET towers are being placed on provincial Crown land, companies have to seek a permit from Crown Lands, under the provincial Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture. These permits are temporary. There are also specific requirements set, reflecting the expectation of limited change to the existing environment (including an additional permitting process for any extension of resource roads). Licences come with “referral conditions” with reminders of provincial environmental laws and regulations covering the work. Companies are also given stipulations on site conditions once they finish their work, when the towers come down, as they withdraw and the permit period for access to the land ends.
World Energy GH2 and eight other private companies are separately still in a competitive Crown Lands land tenure process, involving bids for a long-term lease of land area for potential wind-hydrogen-ammonia developments, including a Codroy area wind farm. These more substantial leases would be awarded with conditions related to the environment and any full-fledged developments with multiple turbines, again, do require a more substantial environmental review.
But the MET tower permits come before any multi-year Crown land lease, and before project environmental assessments (actually, information gathered by METs will feed into detailed filings for that review process).
Crown Lands division staff will weigh the temporary METs proposed for Crown land for major environmental conflicts, taking into account things like protected land areas and protected species. An earlier round of METs for World Energy GH2, for the Port au Port Peninsula, included a proposed location rejected based on the fact it fell within a proposed provincial ecological reserve area. Arguably, the company might never have made the application if the potential ecological reserve, “publicly released” in 2020, was formally declared. As Saltwire has reported, the provincial legislature unanimously agreed in 2017 to designate more protected areas but is only more recently kicked off consultations on additions, including a Cape St. George reserve area.
Regardless, when companies plan to access their METs by an existing access road, often old logging roads, and those roads empty directly onto a highway, an additional highway access permit is required. And there are both permit application fees for the road access, the temporary land access permit, and more substantial rental fees of about $2,500 per year plus tax per tower site. The province has laid out a separate fiscal framework to be applied to wind farms, should they proceed.
Setting the METs aside, public pushback on World Energy GH2’s Project Nujio’qonik has already led to changes in the project plan. Early objections came to light as World Energy GH2 filed a project description as part of its registration for environmental assessment. Not all of the early objections have been resolved, and not all can be resolved short of the company abandoning its project altogether.
On the Port au Port Peninsula, some community members engaged with forums launched online, with Facebook posts and pages like No Wind Turbines Port au Port (nowindturbines.ca). People—ABM is not in a position to state numbers—have actively protested against wind turbines more than once.
Protests in the communities of Mainland and Piccadilly drew attention early in 2023. There were accusations the company was causing harm to the local water supply while introducing MET towers on the Port au Port Peninsula, something the company denied. In such cases, regulators can take action. An injunction in February to allow the company to maintain access to the work sites was challenged in the courts. Subsequent legal proceedings have been complicated by a jurisdictional dispute and related request by Sheila Hinks, Zita Hinks, Sylvia Benoit Ryan and Amanda Cornect to move the matter to an Indigenous tribunal, and the assigned judge’s rejection of their desired legal representative Glenn Bogue. The case is ongoing.
Setting aside the legal proceedings, there have been comments online and during radio news interviews pointing to a general mistrust of both the company and the provincial government, with the latter commonly described by detractors as a facilitator and promoter of wind-hydrogen-ammonia developments.
Members of the Port au Port Environmental Transparency Committee (ETC), a group started in the wake of the World Energy GH2 project proposal, have recognized the regulatory role but argued in a letter to federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault that the federal government should be reviewing the World Energy GH2 project, simply the first of wind-hydrogen-ammonia proposals expected in the province. “The people of the peninsula were hearing innuendo and rumours of a proposed wind farm in the late winter and spring of 2022. In July, our people were invited to a presentation by the proponent in two of our communities at Lourdes and Cape St George. At the meeting in Cape St. George, we learned that this project was well underway and we had not yet had any say whatsoever in what was about to take place,” the letter stated.
The ETC argued, “based on the provincial process up to now, we do not believe that current provincial processes are adequate as they have no authority to respond to our concerns about adverse effects within federal jurisdiction nor adverse direct or incidental effects to our land and livelihoods; nor are they adequate to respond to the challenges posed by this unique project that stands to set a negative precedent for all wind-hydrogen-ammonia projects currently being proposed across Canada if it is not assessed under the absolute highest bar.”
As for “well underway,” from the provincial government’s perspective, the company still had to complete environmental review process.
In Robinsons, Brenda Lee Kitchen has been vocal on her opposition to wind farms in general and the World Energy GH2 proposal. A Facebook page “Protect Our Southwest Coast NL,” run by Kitchen, has included references to her political support moving from provincial Liberals to the Progressive Conservative party, tied to a lack of what she felt was appropriate response from bureaucrats and from politicians including her own MHA, Liberal Scott Reid. The page also included repeat mention of a registration deadline for the PCs, to have a vote in the party’s leadership race.
Kitchen told ABM it’s about more than World Energy GH2 for her, and she sees outfitter complaints related to the METs in moose Area 9 as just a symptom of “a rush” to green hydrogen production in the province. “This is just the first step of showing how residents are going to be continually pushed to the side. And I see that as a big, red flag for all of the residents in Newfoundland and Labrador,” she said.
At the same time, the World Energy GH2 project was slowed down in its early progress by decisions like the province’s institution of a new process for the long-term lease of Crown Lands.
NL’s wind-hydrogen-ammonia push
Kitchen isn’t alone in her suggestions of a slowdown. In January, theatre artist Tara Manuel was visiting the Port au Port Peninsula and filmed herself speaking with people attending a protest in Piccadilly. She has since agreed to be secretary for Enviro Watch NL, a new and growing grassroots organization co-chaired by conservation biologist Brendan Kelly and lawyer and journalist Glenn Wheeler. The group believes there is an “ongoing failure to facilitate meaningful public participation” in considering how local environments are affected by decisions around industrial development. The organization had a soft launch in March and a recruitment drive and fall forum are in the works. Members are calling for a broader debate on provincial energy policy, including around World Energy GH2’s project but also all other wind-hydrogen-ammonia developments being floated for Newfoundland and Labrador.
“We feel like the discussion, a wider discussion, is missing in the province. And we have really weak Opposition, and we’ve suffered for that historically. (…) Our media has been largely decimated. We have no daily newspaper out here on the West Coast anymore. There’s very little investigative journalism happening. And so citizens have to either accept they have no control or information about the area they live in, or take some responsibility for that, so that’s what we’re doing, trying to organize and attempt to fill that void,” Manuel said.
Enviro Watch NL members have been researching wind farms, hydrogen and ammonia production. They are contributing to calls for more public discussion of shipping safety, of ammonia markets, of protection of rare species and more, relevant to World Energy GH2 and others to come. Still, there is no real consensus on what is considered a fair way to proceed, and under what conditions industrial activity might occur. To be clear, ABM makes no endorsements.
For now, World Energy GH2 is continuing through review processes as best it can. It closed a deal for the purchase of the Port of Stephenville earlier this year. It has an investment agreement in place with SK Ecoplant, part of sustainable infrastructure company SK Group, with the subsidiary taking a 20% stake in the first phase. Now, World Energy GH2 is 24% owned by CFFI Ventures, 24% by Brendan Paddick, 8% by Horizon Atlantic Capital, 10% by SK Ecoplant, 10% by SK Engineering and 24% by GH2 Holdings LLC.
No other company has yet entered the environmental assessment process for a wind-hydrogen-ammonia development in Newfoundland and Labrador. Some but not all of the potential other developers, focused on other parts of the province, have indicated they are awaiting the results of a Crown Lands land tenure process, expected from the provincial government any day now.
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