Nfld. & Labrador

Wind energy developer says Port au Port proposal is just the start

World Energy GH2 will want to develop three sites in western Newfoundland for its wind power and hydrogen generation project — one of which is a sensitive wildlife area.

Wind power project will require turbines in 3 sites in western Newfoundland

The Lewis Hills is a destination for backcountry hikers. (Submitted by Paul Wylezol)

A developer who wants to build wind turbines in western Newfoundland says he will need all three of his proposed sites in order to make the project feasible — one of which is a sensitive wildlife area.

The proposal is eyeing areas in Bay St. George South, as well as the Lewis Hills and Blow Me Down Mountains, an area which is a former Crown land reserve and the location of a proposed UNESCO site.

For the time being, World Energy GH2 has submitted a plan to the Department of Environment and Climate Change to build 200-metre turbines — 164 of them — on the Port au Port Peninsula in the first phase of the project.

But company director John Risley said the success of the project, which would use wind energy to power a proposed hydrogen and ammonia plant in Stephenville, depends on having wind turbines in all three areas.

"We will definitely want to develop the other two sites. The economies of scale will require that. And the feasibility work that we've done has been focused on the entire project, not just the first phase," said Risley.

John Risley is a director of World Energy GH2, the company that wants to build wind turbines in three areas of western Newfoundland. (CBC)

First things first

Risley said the original idea was to submit all three proposed sites together for approval through the environmental assessment process.

But Risley said the province asked the company to take things one step at a time.

"The province asked us to do this in phases," said Risley. 

The World Energy GH2 proposal is expected to create hundreds of jobs during the construction phase as well as long-term employment, for which Risley said training will be provided for free to nearby residents.

"We have told local people that all local applicants that apply for these jobs will qualify for an education program at our expense. We will pay for people to be trained for these jobs," said Risley.

CBC asked the Department of Environment and Climate Change why World Energy GH2 was asked to submit its project in phases, but the department declined to answer, saying, "As the environmental assessment process is currently ongoing for this project, it would be inappropriate for the minister to comment on specifics about the project at this time."

The deadline for public comment about the plan for turbines on the Port au Port Peninsula is July 27, with a decision expected from Minister Bernard Davis by Aug. 5.

This map shows the area of Blow Me Down Mountains and Lewis Hills for which a Crown land licence will be sought by World Energy GH2. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

Lewis Hills proposal

The phased approach means that the focus right now is on receiving input from people on the Port au Port Peninsula.

But the International Appalachian Trail Association is watching closely to see how things unfold, as it has concerns about wind turbines being located in the Lewis Hills, where an effort is underway to establish a UNESCO Global Geopark.

Paul Wylezol, a director of IATNL, said having the wind energy project considered in phases means organizations like his have an opportunity to collect their thoughts and plan their approach.

"That's fine. It buys us more time," said Wylezol.

The Lewis Hills are a popular spot for snowmobilers from all across Newfoundland and beyond. (Submitted by Bev Bursey)

Not the place for it

Wylezol said he supports wind energy but turbines don't belong in the Lewis Hills.

"In terms of our interest in the Lewis Hills and Blow Me Down Mountains, we feel there are better places," said Wylezol.

On the provincial government Land Use Atlas website, the two areas in question are identified as being an area of conservation interest, and the Blow Me Down Mountains are listed as a sensitive wildlife area for which no cottage applications will be accepted.

"You can't even apply to build a cottage up there, but they're planning on putting up 100 wind turbines," said Wylezol.

This image from the province's Land Use Atlas website lists the Blow Me Down Mountains as a sensitive wildlife area for which no cottage applications are accepted. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

Wylezol said it's important for people to remember that the two mountain areas share a common geology with the Tablelands, which offered proof for the theory of plate tectonics back in the 1960s and 1970s and led Gros Morne National Park to be designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Wylezol said the Lewis Hills and Blow Me Down Mountains also have a fragile and unique landscape and are also deserving of protection. The highest point on the island of Newfoundland, Cabox, is located in the Lewis Hills.

"I mean, you wouldn't wear your best dress or your best suit to paint the shed, and so we don't feel that we should be developing that particular site," said Wylezol.

Paul Wylezol, a director with the International Appalachian Trail N.L., says the Lewis Hills and Blow Me Down Mountains are no place for wind turbines. (Bernice Hillier/CBC)

Mitigation

World Energy GH2 has said it will use existing woods roads and trails to access turbine sites as much as possible, instead of building more roads, and it has hired an engineering firm to study the potential for impact on local bird populations and determine if mitigation efforts will be required.

"We're doing everything that the department is asking us to do," said Risley. "If we're going to transition away from fossil fuels, we've got to have projects like this."

In a statement, the Department of Environment and Climate Change said, "The environmental assessment process is comprehensive and rigorous. Environmental assessment helps ensure the wise management of the province's natural resources and protects the environment and quality of life for residents.

"Once a project is registered, there is review, input, and recommendations by 24 federal and provincial government departments and agencies, and all documents and submissions, including public feedback and comments, are considered before a decision is made."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bernice Hillier is a host of CBC Newfoundland Morning, which airs weekday mornings across western and central Newfoundland, as well as southern Labrador.

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