Nfld. & Labrador

Everyone says N.L. has big potential for wind energy. But when will the industry get going?

The moratorium on wind farms had been in place since 2007, which kept companies from generating and exporting onshore wind energy in the province.

Regulations for exporting electricity will be key, says Econext CEO

Kieran Hanley, left, and Keith Drover say wind energy has a lot of potential for the future in Newfoundland and Labrador. (CBC)

Companies in the renewable energy field are excited about the implications of Newfoundland and Labrador's abolition of a controversial moratorium on onshore wind energy production, although the provincial energy minister is hesitant to say how quickly things will start moving. 

A provincial moratorium on private wind farms had been in place since 2007, which kept companies from generating and exporting onshore wind energy in the province.

Energy Minister Andrew Parsons said several companies had already expressed interest in developing wind farms in the province before the announcement on April 5, adding government will create policy to make it possible for developers.

"We're kind of seeing it in real time, the foundation for a new industry in Newfoundland and Labrador," said EcoNext CEO Kieran Hanley, who leads a association of businesses fostering clean energy development formerly known as the Newfoundland and Labrador Environmental Industry Association. 

"This was one of the things they said they were going to do, and they've done it in fairly short order. So very very happy to see that happen and move forward."

Keith Drover, vice-president of project development for St. John's-based Growler Energy, said the province has potential to be a key player in the wind energy sector — largely due to its trademark windy conditions.

According to Drover, up to 40 per cent of Canada's developable wind potential exists in Newfoundland and Labrador — for comparison, the province only uses about one per cent of national consumption.

"I think the export potential for electricity and renewable energy production probably increases with this shift in thinking," Drover said Tuesday.

With the moratorium now lifted, Hanley said, the focus now shifts to questions the industry has about how to move forward. Those questions include:

  • How would a company acquire land for a development?
  • How can proponents move forward in creating and generating electricity?
  • Most importantly, how can the province best export the electricity while dealing with the still incomplete Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project?

"We haven't really found a great way to get that outside of the province," he said.

Privately owned wind farms had effectively been banned by a moratorium that Newfoundland and Labrador lifted earlier this month. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

"Increased interest in things like hydrogen and clean, heavy industry have really opened the doors to new renewable energy production and the export of not just the electricity … but also the fuels that electricity can produce or the goods that that renewable energy can produce."

Drover said education for those looking to work in the field will be crucial in the coming years, and hopes the industry can get to a place where it overproduces resources similar to the oil and gas industry.

"There's a lot of potential for renewable energy in the province to help to diversify the economy and maybe bring some of the level of jobs that we do see in the oil sector," he said.

Government working to find balance: Parsons

Parsons said Hanley's questions will be answered as the province lays the groundwork to develop the industry. He said announcements could be made this year, but steps for legislative change most likely won't start until the fall sitting of the House of Assembly.

Energy Minister Andrew Parsons says the government is 'working with a sense of urgency' to clear the way for wind energy. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

"We're working with a sense of urgency, and we're certainly trying to expedite it. But I also don't want to in the rush to do this take a step that is not going to assist us down the road," Parsons said.

"At the end of the day, this resource and these opportunities belong to the people of the province. We have to work with everybody to ensure that we're getting the best return."

Parsons said many conversations still need to happen as plans develop, including working with other departments to see how Crown land can be used to develop wind farms and how the farms would fit into the provincial power grid.

Parsons said the province still also has to reckon with Muskrat Falls, acknowledging the province's current electricity infrastructure needs to be protected and paid for.

"We have a system that we have to pay for. Somebody has to pay for them," Parsons said. "So it's not about limiting, it's just acknowledging a system that's there that we have to find a way to continue to operate."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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