By Jaymie White
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
WEST COAST – The topic of wind development on the West and Southwest coasts of the province was brought to the forefront with the proposal for green hydrogen production and wind turbines on the Port au Port Peninsula by World Energy GH2, but they are not the only company looking at the region’s potential.
On Thursday evening, Aug. 11, at the Royal Canadian Legion in St. George’s, and on Thursday, Aug. 18 at the Bruce II in Port Aux Basques, Fortescue Future Industries (FFI), a global leader in green hydrogen, hosted public information sessions to discuss their own potential wind development across the province. FFI, who is on track to become the largest producer of green hydrogen in the world, said their mission is to address climate change and develop a green industry with the community while providing economic opportunities.
Keith Burak of FFI said the goal of the information sessions is to work hand in hand with communities, every step of the way, to collaboratively develop a plan for green hydrogen and wind development.
“I’m not here to ask for your support. I’m not here to present you with plans. I’m here to present you with ideas that our company has and how we want to work with the communities because, I really want to emphasize, in order for this to become a project, two things have to happen. Obviously we need commercial viability, but equally important, people have to buy into the project and feel comfortable with the project and the company. If both of those things don’t happen, we don’t have a project,” said Burak.
FFI has surveyed many countries around the world, but Canada was cited as a prime location for green energy development.
“It has 20 per cent of the world’s fresh water. It’s got a relatively clean energy grid and it’s got enormous potential for green power. That’s why they’ve been focusing on Canada, and the reason why the focus is here in Newfoundland and Labrador is because of the potential for power and its access to international markets because of its ports,” explained Burak.
FFI is looking at installing up to 400 wind turbines in the region.
“Whether it’s 200 or 300, that is something we still have to figure out at this point, with an approximate capacity of two gigawatts, or 2000 megawatts of power generated from those wind sources,” said Burak. “So you need power, but you also have to deliver that power to your production facility, so that requires high voltage transmission lines.”
Burak added that the specific location of the wind turbines and production facilities are not set in stone, and that they are looking for community input as to where the final locations should be.
Currently FFI is looking at two locations for the production facility and locations for the turbines. One of the questions raised by the attendees was whether new transmission lines would have to be built or if they would tap into the existing grid with transmission lines already in place, stressing the more environmentally friendly option would be to avoid new construction.
“It could be both,” replied Burak. “Those discussions are taking place now and they need to continue. It could be one of two things. It could be brand new transmission lines all the way from the power facility to the production facility, or it could be tied into the existing grid and that’s something we need to figure out.”
When the topic of World Energy GH2 came up and how far along they already are in their development plans, some in the audience wondered if coming in behind them was a worry for FFI. Burak said FFI had no concerns and felt no need to rush as a result of that company’s progress.
“We’re focusing on this process, and we want to involve the community right at the very beginning because we don’t want to get to the planning stage or the execution phase and find out you guys have concerns about whatever it might be,” said Burak.
FFI estimates that its production phase will begin in 2026 with operations beginning in 2029, meaning a three to four year construction period.
Burak said this project would offer approximately 2,000 jobs per year during the actual construction period – 1,500 of which are directly related to the construction and 500 indirect positions related to businesses providing services for the project – and about 60-70 direct jobs after construction is complete to operate and maintain the facilities.
The audience voiced concerns at the significant difference in jobs during construction and after, raising the question of what people are to do after construction is complete and the jobs are no longer available to them and what will happen to the economic growth after everything is done.
Burak said, even though there will be only 60-70 jobs directly in the plant, there will be approximately 1,400 indirectly involved, such as maintenance, electrical work, and other various contracts in relation to the facility.
The fact that fresh water is needed to produce the green hydrogen struck a chord with many in attendance, wondering where this fresh water supply would be coming from and what that would mean for residents.
Those in the audience also discussed how Newfoundland and Labrador should be able to benefit from this project as well, specifically by getting a break on the significant amount currently being paid for heat and lights across the province, and that there needs to be something more, aside from international export, attached to such a project to make it worthwhile for those living in the province.
Burak closed by stating that he appreciated all the concerns raised and points made by those in attendance. He noted that this is the first of many information sessions with FFI, and that each step of the process will look at everything discussed to ensure the community is 100 per cent comfortable with the project before the company moves forward with any official planning.