Nfld. & Labrador

'Lipstick being put on a pig': Wind power researcher suspicious of government's motives for lifting ban

Dalhousie's Nick Mercer says the lifting of a ban on onshore wind power projects is great news for Newfoundland and Labrador but he's concerned about the approval of Bay du Nord.

Nick Mercer says the lifting of a ban on onshore wind power projects is great — but he questions the timing

This undated file photo shows a project in the Gaspé Peninsula. (The Associated Press)

On the surface, Nick Mercer of Stephenville says the Newfoundland and Labrador government's lifting of a ban of wind power is great news for the province.

But the Dalhousie post-doctoral research scholar, who has been studying wind power for more than 10 years, says the federal approval of the Bay du Nord oil project two days later left him with a sour taste.

"A lot of us … are feeling enraged that wind energy is being used as a bit of a political coverup for the advancement of offshore oil projects, which really threaten our ability to achieve a habitable future," he said.

In 2016, Mercer released a paper that looked at the barriers to the development of wind energy in Newfoundland and Labrador. He outlined several reasons the province was behind the country in wind energy development, the top of which were government legislation and political will.

At the time, he said if the province was turned into a giant wind farm, it could produce 117 times the amount of electricity it consumes.

According to a government release this week, the province has some of the best wind resources in North America. 

"These can be used to power wind turbines and generate electricity for industrial customers, [for] export through transmission lines, for the production and export of hydrogen/ammonia and to supply energy to Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro," the statement read.

Nick Mercer, a post-doctoral research scholar at Dalhousie University, lives in Stephenville. (CBC)

Leading up the end of the moratorium on wind energy development, the Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industries Association changed its name to Energy N.L. Its new mandate is to "facilitate member participation" in the energy industry by "advocating for sustainable development."

Also, the oil and gas regulatory body previously known at the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board is changing its name to the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Energy Board and will have its regulatory role expanded to include wind and hydrogen power generation.

Mercer, a member of the province's net-zero advisory committee, is suspicious of the changes, all which have taken place in the past two weeks.

"I feel to some sense, that lipstick is being put on a pig here, and that we're really trying to create a new brand as a really positive energy force in the world while we're continuing to make decisions that threaten our future," he said.

"Before we start talking about how we're going to decarbonize the globe with Newfoundland and Labrador's energy warehouse, I would like to see a focus at home, where we're trying to discern how we can manage these projects fairly, and how we can make sure that the benefits rest with the people who have to live with the adverse benefits of these developments."

Mercer says the provincial government needs to shift its focus from industrial wind energy projects to ones that are community-driven. Rather than spending billions on megaprojects, he advocates for smaller wind development, and projects that will see the communities they serve reap the rewards.

"When you build small, localized projects that have major equity ownership from community groups … that's when the benefits actually rest at home," he said. "If a regulatory framework can go ahead, I would like it to be for the benefit of communities, not for corporations."

'This can be a job creator'

Retired provincial politician Kevin Aylward has been a proponent of wind energy for years. Describing himself as an energy transition developer, Aylward says the lifting of the moratorium on wind development is a necessary and vital step for the industry. 

Aylward is a partner with Beothuck Energy, which hopes to build a wind farm on the west coast of Newfoundland. In 2016, it secured Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners as a financial backer.

Aylward said wind development can be a job creator and diversify the rural economy.

"[It's capital coming into the province that can create brand new jobs here and also, the existing workforce can be used," he said. "The other thing is that you don't have to sell the power to the grid. The new game-changer part of the market is that you can create hydrogen with wind power."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


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