The road to Project Nujio’Qonik is following a similar path as Muskrat Falls when it comes to disjointed government policy and lack of transparency, says a Memorial University political scientist.
But Russell Williams says the massive wind-hydrogen proposal on Newfoundland’s west coast is nonetheless a fait accompli.
“I think we all know the government has decided to go ahead with this,” Williams said in a virtual panel discussion Wednesday evening hosted by Enviro Watch NL.
“We need a proper process for evaluating megaprojects like this and what’s going on right now is a pretty textbook example of how not to do those processes.”
Russell was joined on the panel by University of Prince Edward Island environmental studies professor Nick Mercer and Port au Port Peninsula resident Tami Park-Tighe. The event was moderated by Tara Manual of Enviro Watch and Glenn Wheeler, who hosts a podcast called Mi’kmaq Matters.
In introducing the speakers, Manual made a point of saying she and her fellow environmentalists are not opposed to wind energy projects per se.
“We do think wind energy is a crucial aspect in reducing emissions and responding to climate change. However, we think it must be built at an appropriate scale and directly benefit the communities which host the project,” she said.
Decision expected soon
The project would see about 330 giant turbines split equally between the Port au Port Peninsula and Codroy Valley’s Anguille Mountains. The more than 3 GW of electricity would power a plant in Stephenville to produce 250,000 tonnes of hydrogen a year and convert it to ammonia for overseas markets.
Wednesday was the deadline for public input on a 4,100-page environmental impact statement submitted by World Energy GH2 on Aug. 22. Energy Minister Andrew Parsons is expected to either greenlight the development or ask for more information within two weeks.
In his remarks, Williams spelled out some of the ways the current process seems to be mirroring that of the troubled Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project. An inquiry into Muskrat Falls found in 2020 that Crown corporation executives were deceptive about the project’s viability and that government officials neglected to exercise due diligence.
“We know that they actively misrepresented facts,” Williams said. “They took advantage of the fact the government was willing to let them say things that have turned out to be untrue.”
Ironically, Williams said, Muskrat Falls at least had a joint federal-provincial environmental panel looking at that proposal in advance.
Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault turned down a citizens’ request for a federal impact assessment of Project Nujio’Qonik last week.
Williams said it’s typical for governments to ride the momentum and start tuning out criticism at some point.
“We know that they start filtering out information that doesn’t support that goal. That’s a general problem that’s well recognized. Essentially, government stops listening,” he said.
“You can’t have any serious process of public dialogue and citizen engagement where we know from the outset that the decision has already kind of been made.”
Power request ‘inevitable’
One of the biggest concerns Williams sees is the “piecemeal” way some aspects of the project are changing over time.
The Codroy Valley component wasn’t fully fleshed out until the company submitted its environmental impact statement in August.
As well, as CBC first reported, the company has put in a request to access up to 155 megawatts of power from Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro to ensure continued operation of the plant. That’s one-fifth of the capacity of Muskrat Falls.
“I understand from people who have engineering expertise on these kinds of projects that it was inevitable that World Energy was going to be asking to purchase hydro power off the grid,” said Williams.
“That wasn’t made clear back at the start.”
“We know the wind doesn’t always blow, even on the Port au Port Peninsula. It’s close, but it’s certainly not all the time,” he said.
Putting demand on a grid that’s already spoken for has the potential to be the tail wagging the dog for another large hydro project like Gull Island, added Mercer.
“This is kind of what I call the butterfly effect of renewable energy projects,” he said. “We build a giant wind farm in Newfoundland and it necessitates flooding Innu or Inuit lands in Labrador to keep powering it.”
The seeming inevitability of the project spurred an emotional response from panelist Tami Park-Tighe, one of several Port au Port residents who’ve been raising concerns about it since the proposal first surfaced in early 2022.
“My heart is so heavy today, and it’s just that feeling that we’re not going to be heard,” she said, wiping away tears. “It’s just so disheartening.”
Park-Tighe said there’s a rich diversity of culture among the peninsula’s 4,600 residents, as well as delicate ecosystems. She said installing 164 turbines in a space that takes about an hour to drive around could destroy all that.
Asked if there would be resentment among neighbouring towns if the project was cancelled, Park-Tighe said the issue has already torn the community apart.
“We have family members that can’t speak to one another because one person is for it and the other person is against it, so they agree that they can’t speak about it at all in their home.”
By Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Oct 15, 2023 at 10:31