Nfld. & Labrador

'A lot of convincing to do': Port au Port residents feel blindsided by proposed wind farm

Revealing he has a confirmed market already in place Germany, Nova Scotia businessman John Risley made a pitch to a room full of worried residents of Newfoundland's Port au Port Peninsula. One woman accused him of being "very disrespectful" to people anxious about how 164 turbines will change their lives.

John Risley says he already has a confirmed market in Germany

A man wearing a striped green short-sleeved shirt addresses a meeting at a community centre
Nova Scotia businessman John Risley, seen in a still from a video streamed to YouTube, spoke with residents of Newfoundland's Port au Port Peninsula about a proposed wind farm in the region on Wednesday. (Aiden Young/YouTube)

Residents of Newfoundland's Port au Port Peninsula say they've been blindsided by the announcement of a proposed hydrogen wind farm in the region, saying they fear scores of turbines will infringe on their land and harm their way of life.

At a meeting in Cape St. George on Wednesday, businessman John Risley faced a room filled with obviously frustrated residents, some of whom said they were surprised to learn about it from media reports or from neighbours. 

"It's disrespectful, very disrespectful.…There's some very pissed-off people in our communities," one woman can be heard telling Risley during a meeting that was streamed to YouTube. 

"You're going to have a lot of convincing to do."

Risley, a Nova Scotia businessman who formerly ran Clearwater Seafoods, is chairman and chief executive officer of CFFI Ventures and part of the group behind World Energy GH2. The company plans to build 164 wind turbines on the peninsula and use the energy produced there to make green hydrogen and ammonia in a plant in Stephenville.

WATCH | See a stream of John Risley's July 6 meeting with Port au Port Peninsula residents: 

Risley said meetings with multiple municipalities began six weeks ago, and told Wednesday's gathering that he understands those meetings don't represent the whole population. He added subsequent meetings were also held in nearby Lourdes and Stephenville.

Others voiced concerns over the location, noise and height of the turbines, wondering if they will have any impact on the areas landscapes and views — or if it they could be placed on people's properties.

Risley said turbines can be no closer than one kilometre from any building and he expects the turbines to be between 90 and 120 metres tall.

The Newfoundland and Labrador government does not seem to have any rules governing the minimum distance between wind turbines and private dwellings.

The Department of Environment and Climate Change has refused to explain what — if any — rules exist for turbines, despite repeated requests from CBC and Radio-Canada. Spokesperson Debbie Marnell said in an email that Environment Minister Bernard Davis "would be advised of provincial requirements and policies regarding wind power projects."

Newfoundland and Labrador in April lifted a moratorium on privately owned onshore wind generation. The moratorium had been in place for 15 years. 

German market already confirmed: Risley

Asked where hydrogen made in Newfoundland could end up, Risley said the group already has a confirmed market in Germany.

Risley said the German government has created a Crown corporation to buy green hydrogen that will decide where to introduce it into the German economy.

A company plans to put 164 wind turbines on the Port au Port Peninsula, on Newfoundland's west coast. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

"The purpose of them doing that is that makes our marketing job easy, because we don't have to run around and talk to all those potential customers and convince them that they should pay a premium associated with green," he said.

Construction on the turbines and a hydrogen plant in Stephenville is expected to take three years, with Risley hoping it can begin around summer 2023. The project must first undergo yearlong environmental study, examining how birds and plants will be affected along with studying the conditions where the turbines will be placed.

Meanwhile, residents who live in local service districts said they were not consulted in the same way municipalities were. 

Each red dot on this map represents a wind turbine for the proposed wind farm project on the Port au Port Peninsula. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

Risley also said he is prepared to work with the local service districts to make sure that all concerns are shared. He also offered to take some people to similar wind farms in places like Ontario so they can share the experience with residents.

"We're not starting construction for a year. There's lots of time for us to have those conversations," he said.

"And if I have to come back over here three or four times or some more, then I'm more than happy to do so."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Patrick Butler

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