June 23rd, 2024

In megaproject-weary Newfoundland, a massive hydrogen operation has some on edge

By The Canadian Press on April 10, 2024.

Sean Leet, managing director and CEO of World Energy GH2, is shown in St. John's on Wednesday, April 10, 2024. Leet says his company's proposed wind-powered hydrogen energy project will make Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador proud. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sarah Smellie

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – A multibillion-dollar megaproject approved in Newfoundland and Labrador on Tuesday amid a race to develop the country’s first green hydrogen operation has some wondering if the province has learned from its mistakes.

Sean Leet, World Energy GH2’s chief executive, says he is aware there are concerns from local residents about the US$12-billion Project Nujio’qonik, but he says the company is building something the province, and country, will be proud of.

Nick Mercer, an assistant environmental science professor at the University of Prince Edward Island, says the plans for more than 300 wind turbines and a hydrogen and ammonia production plant in western Newfoundland don’t offer locals enough benefits or control.

Mercer, who grew up in the province, is also part of a group of concerned citizens who worry the megaproject led by World Energy GH2 is too large and experimental, and uses rural Newfoundland as a testing ground to benefit a private company.

Bill Montevecchi, a seabird scientist at Memorial University in St. John’s, says the province’s troubles with the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric dam show that large, big-budget projects come with staggering risk.

The provincial government approved Project Nujio’qonik’s environmental assessment Tuesday with several conditions, and Leet says the company will make a final decision early next year about whether it will go ahead with the operation.

The Muskrat Falls hydroelectric dam was greenlit in 2012 by the province’s then-Progressive Conservative government, with an estimated price tag of about $7.4 billion. Its cost has since ballooned to more than $13 billion.

Though it was finally declared to be in working order last year, there are persistent problems with some of its components.

Premier Andrew Furey’s Liberal government often blames Muskrat Falls for the province’s financial issues, and he referred to it in 2021 as an “an anchor around the collective souls” of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 10, 2024.

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