World Energy GH2 offers $10M to Port au Port communities if wind project goes ahead

The company behind a large wind farm project proposed for the Port au Port Peninsula is gaining support after offering up $10 million for communities in the area in the form of a "community vibrancy fund."

Funds can be used for anything, says chairman, and will start being doled out when construction starts

Three wind turbines.
World Energy GH2 is providing funding for communities that may be the site of a new wind-hydrogen farm on Newfoundland's west coast. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

The company behind a large wind farm project proposed for the Port au Port Peninsula is gaining support after offering up $10 million for communities in the area in the form of a "community vibrancy fund."

World Energy GH2 is hoping to construct 164 wind turbines, which would dot most of the peninsula, to produce green hydrogen. That project is currently going through a provincial environmental assessment process. 

At first, the proposal was met with strong pushback. 

"We've had a number of meetings with members of the community in all these jurisdictions and we had heard there were a number of community issues," John Risley, chairman of World Energy GH2, told CBC News.

"I think, fundamentally, the communities didn't really have access to funding to open the door to federal and or provincial matching money and that left a lot of very desirable projects sort of … on hold or unable to proceed because the community just didn't have the budget capacity."

Stephenville, which is the proposed site for the ammonia plant portion of the project, will share the $10 million with the Port au Port Peninsula and the Three Rivers, Flat Bay and Codroy Valley area.

Risley said the money will be paid out over three years, with the first instalment coming if or when construction starts next year. 

He said the company saw an opportunity to provide those communities with "unbudgeted" funding and they can decide how they will spend it. World Energy GH2 is not providing oversight for how the money will be spent, said Risley. 

"That's not our role. Our role is to support the communities and let them decide how and where they want to spend the money," he said. 

Jasen Benwah, chief of Benoit First Nation in Cape St. George, has been following the project closely since the proposal was made public. 

Benwah has said he was remaining neutral to the idea of the World Energy GH2 project rather than taking an outright stance for or against the proposal. 

Jasen Benwah sitting in front of a banner that reads Every Child Matters.
Jasen Benwah, chief of the Benoit First Nation and Port au Port ward councillor for Qalipu First Nation, says funding from World Energy GH2 will help communities fix infrastructure. (Tory Turner/CBC)

This week, Benwah said some residents in the area still have some concerns but the company has done its best to ease any hesitancy. 

"We're talking two years of construction. We're talking a huge inconvenience regarding traffic issues with all this machinery and vehicles," he said. 

"Having a community fund to fund community needs I think was an excellent gesture from the company if this project is approved."

Company confident of green light

Stella Cornect, mayor of Cape St. George and chair of the Port au Port Peninsula committee — consisting of councillors and members of local service districts tasked with forwarding concerns to the proponent company — has been the main voice for the region since the project came to light. 

Cornect, who like Benwah said she kept an open mind for the project, called on the provincial government in August to delay any decisions ont the project until an environmental assessment could took place. 

"We have a dying community, so is this company going to come in, are we going to get great benefits, are we going to get people working? We can't close our minds to the industry," she said at the time.

During World Energy GH2's announcement of its community fund, Cornect called it a "considerable contribution" for the area. CBC attempted to reach Cornect multiple times for comment.

"Our community needs are great, and this fund will help address some of those needs. We'll work together to make sure the direct benefits will be a great boost for our area," she said in a statement released by the company.

Benwah said there are needs in the towns and local service districts across the peninsula and most communities have projects they'd like to get off the ground, whether that's repairing trails and parks or repairing community buildings. 

"There won't be a problem where they won't find a space to put the money, that's for sure," he said. 

But the project is still a long way away from putting shovels into the ground. 

Risley is confident things will go as planned. 

"I don't think there's any question that the project will get approval," he said.

"Obviously there's risk that it may not get approval but the nature of the approval is simply we've got to carry out all the environmental studies that are required of us. We're doing that now."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Bernice Hillier