If N.L. approves multiple hydrogen projects, will there be enough workers to build them?

A lot of questions remain about the feasibility of Newfoundland and Labrador's tidal wave of green hydrogen proposals, but there's one quandary that stands above the rest: who is going to build them?

Trades N.L. says labour will be tight, campaigns needed ASAP

Five windmills staggered on the horizon with a fishing boat passing in the water in the foreground.
Newfoundland and Labrador is currently reviewing 24 proposals for wind farms — like this one in Lower West Pubnico, N.S. — on the island to power hydrogen-to-ammonia plants. (The Canadian Press)

A lot of questions remain about the feasibility of Newfoundland and Labrador's tidal wave of green hydrogen proposals, but there's one quandary that stands above the rest for the companies bidding to start these massive projects.

It's not the technology or economics, which remain unproven at the scale being proposed in the province.

It's not the costs, despite projects having preliminary price tags in the billions.

It's a question of who will build the things if the province approves multiple projects at the same time.

"That's the one that keeps me up at night," said Sam Imbeault, the man heading up Everwind Fuels' massive proposal for the Burin Peninsula. 

Imbeault said a two-gigawatt wind project, such as the one his company is proposing, could require up to 5,000 jobs during the construction stage. Some of those might last two weeks, he said, while others could be two years. Still, the number represents one-third of the skilled tradespeople currently in Newfoundland and Labrador.

A 30-something white man with clear rimmed glasses.
Everwind Fuels vice-president Sam Imbeault is the project lead for the company's plans in Newfoundland. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

The first phase of World Energy GH2's plan for the Stephenville and Port au Port area would require 2,500 direct and indirect jobs. Another proposal in the Stephenville region would require an additional 2,000 jobs. A proposal by the Exploits Valley Renewable Energy Corporation (EVREC) would require yet another 2,000 construction jobs.

There are now 24 of these proposals, with job estimates during construction ranging from hundreds to thousands.

"All these projects are going to hit at the same time with everybody saying I need 1,000 people or 2,000 people," said Ravi Sood, executive chairman of EVREC. "It's additive, and there's not that much synergy there because it's actual bodies at work in different [areas] around the province."

The government is expected to announce by the first week of July how many projects can proceed on Crown land. CBC News asked several of the proponents how many projects they would like to see approved, with many saying three or four would likely be the maximum.

"These are projects that will require thousands of people to build," Imbeault said. "If you have too many competing projects at the same time you'll max out your capacity domestically and the price of these projects will skyrocket and it'll jeopardize all of them."

Trades N.L. up for challenge but warns 'labour is tight'

It's not just the wind-hydrogen industry that has the potential to stretch labour capacities.

Several mining projects are nearing a go-ahead in central Newfoundland. Marathon Gold's Valentine Lake project, for example, will require more than 400 jobs during the construction phase and as many jobs during production.

Equinor's massive Bay du Nord project could also fall in the middle of some the wind-hydrogen projects, following the oil giant's announcement that the final investment decision would be delayed by up to three years. The number of jobs varies depending on how much of the oil-production vessel will be built in Newfoundland, but it's expected to be a significant employer.

A man with grey hair and rimless glasses, wearing a yellow collared shirt under a grey sweater.
Darin King is the executive director of Trades N.L. His members stand to gain tremendously from the work on the Bay du Nord project. (CBC)

Trades N.L. executive director Darin King said the labour forecast looks similar to what it was 10 years ago, when his organization had more than 15,000 members employed among Muskrat Falls, the Hebron project and Vale's Long Harbour processing plant at the same time.

"I don't think it will be a problem; however, I will caution that labour is tight," King said. "I think we can source the workers but it's all going to be about timing."

If multiple projects start at the same time, it could lead to challenges. If they're staggered, however, there could be opportunities for the same workers to move from one project to another.

Staggering not viable, EVREC says

Ravi Sood doesn't see it happening that way — at least not intentionally. Whichever companies get through the starting gate will be unlikely to entertain the thought of staggering their projects.

"Who gets to go first is the next question, and, 'Why am I not first?'" he said. "I think it's really going to be this bulge and there will just have to be some creativity around how to deal with that construction task at the front end."

A man with a beard and black hair, wearing a suit, standing at a podium in front of a microphone.
Ravi Sood is the executive chairman of Exploits Valley Renewable Energy Corporation, a company bidding for a massive wind-to-hydrogen project anchored in Botwood. (Ryan Cooke/CBC)

Not all companies are working on the same timelines, however. World Energy GH2, for example, aims to be the first commercial producer in Canada, with exports starting in 2025. Most others are looking at longer time frames, meaning there could be some natural separation between projects.

In a statement to CBC News, Energy Minister Andrew Parsons said, "Labour demands are not a deciding factor in the evaluation of wind-hydrogen projects." Most jobs will be created during the early stages of the project, he said, with demand easing during the long-term operation and maintenance stages.

"The exact number of jobs will depend on the size and number of projects that get approved," he said.

Skilled trades campaign needed now, King says

So the question remains: where will the workers come from? 

King estimates there are more tradespeople from Newfoundland and Labrador working outside the province than within it, and many of them could be enticed to return.

"If a project comes tomorrow and it looks like there's two or 2½ years of work in construction on it, you'll find a lot of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians working out west are going to want to come home because they've got a sense of security."

Two oil workers in a silhouette.
Thousands of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians work in western Canada, with many employed in the Alberta oil and gas industry. (Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press)

The second part of the solution will be raising a workforce in the next few years.

A 10-year forecast by industry organization BuildForce projects the province will see a net loss of 900 workers by 2032. Trades N.L. says it can reverse that projection by pairing the influx of projects with a campaign to recruit young people into the trades.

"It's high time people become keenly aware of this," King said. "Government and stakeholders like us need to really be engaged in a strategy to recruit to the trades because the last thing any of us would want is to see some of these major projects happen and realize that we're just not prepared with enough people to do the work and have to bring people in from outside."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Ryan Cooke is a multiplatform journalist with CBC News in St. John's. His work often takes a deeper look at social issues and the human impact of public policy. Originally from rural Newfoundland, he attended the University of Prince Edward Island and worked for newspapers throughout Atlantic Canada before joining CBC in 2016. He can be reached at

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