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Showing support for green hydrogen

Meta group hosts rally in favour of Project Nujio’qonik

Roughly 500 people stood in the icy wind and snow to show their support for green hydrogen development on Saturday, Nov. 25. — © René J. Roy / Wreckhouse Press Inc.

By René J. Roy Editor-in-Chief — with files from Jaymie White STEPHENVILLE — Since World Energy GH2 (WEGH2) announced its intention to construct and operate a wind farm on the Port au Port Peninsula, there has been a vocal outcry against the project and the potential environmental impacts that could be caused by an undertaking of this magnitude. Protests were held, WEGH2 held public meetings and information sessions for individuals to raise concerns, and Facebook groups were created for stakeholders to show their opposition to Project Nujio’qonik, but not everyone shares those same sentiments. There are people who see the project as a positive for the region, offering jobs, a boost to the local economy, and a significant jump forward in green energy production. A new Meta (Facebook) group, ‘We Support the Green Hydrogen Industry In Western NL’, has rapidly become a positive public forum for stakeholders to discuss the many benefits they see to the project, but the group is also striving to understand and respect both sides of the argument and keep people informed instead of inflamed. Sean Sheppard, one of the group’s administrators and the one who formed the Meta group, said the online page was built to provide a safe space for individuals who support the Green Hydrogen Industry in Western Newfoundland. “It aimed to gather like-minded individuals and supporters to show unified backing for the project and its potential benefits to the community. Additionally, I started this group because I am concerned about my region. Rural Western Newfoundland is slowly declining in population, with some areas experiencing median age demographics of 55+ (higher in some areas) years old and a 4-1 death-to-birth ratio. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that these areas cannot keep going like this. If private investment and even status quo population numbers aren’t achieved, there will be fewer services, jobs and infrastructure. I think this will lead to more and more people, especially youth, leaving the province to find work elsewhere, to raise their family’s elsewhere. In demographic economic terms, the age demographics for Bay St. George are already strained to almost a point of no return, and there has to be a change in order to keep the same way of life,” said Sheppard last week. “So I support this project from the perspective that the area needs some sort of revitalization to entice young people to stay. Additionally, I believe that Newfoundland has a chance to finally be at the forefront of an emerging industry and market that will be around for decades. A lot of countries have already committed to net-zero emissions by 2040-2050. The hydrogen economy has a huge role to play in achieving those goals.” Sheppard referenced data shared by the United Nations online at https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/net-zero-coalition. According to that website, net zero means cutting greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible, with any remaining emissions re-absorbed from the atmosphere by oceans and forests. “The science shows clearly that in order to avert the worst impacts of climate change and preserve a livable planet, global temperature increase needs to be limited to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Currently, the Earth is already about 1.1°C warmer than it was in the late 1800s, and emissions continue to rise. To keep global warming to no more than 1.5°C — as called for in the Paris Agreement — emissions need to be reduced by 45 per cent by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.” Since the Facebook group launched its numbers have grown rapidly, reaching 2,300 people in two days. By Saturday, Nov. 25, it had grown to over 2,900 members. Some members have experience in the wind energy sector and are sharing their experiences, including one who has worked in South Korea and green hydrogen-powered cars. “The response has been overwhelmingly positive from those in support of the project. The group has seen significant growth indicating strong community backing and interest in advocating for the initiative,” said Sheppard. “Also, many businesses have shown their support for the project.” No matter how peaceful the group aims to be, there has been conflict. “While the group’s focus is on support, there have been occasional contrasting opinions. Efforts have been made to ensure respectful discourse, but the group’s primary aim remains to uphold and showcase support for the project,” said Sheppard. “We respect that not everyone will support this project. They are making their voices heard and they should also be listened to. However, we feel that the positives outweigh the negatives, and our region needs this private investment project. We want it known that there are a lot of people that support this project.” The group administrators encourage civil discourse. “As administrators, the focus is on maintaining a positive and supportive atmosphere within the group. Discussions that diverge from the group’s objective of supporting the project are redirected or moderated to ensure the group’s coherence. Because it has grown so quickly, the admins are learning on the fly about how to manage it and engage with people respectfully,” said Sheppard. “It’s hoped that being part of this group will allow individuals to collectively demonstrate their support for the green hydrogen industry and contribute to fostering a positive narrative around its benefits for the community. We know there are people against the project, and we feel they should be heard, and we respect them for what they are doing as well. However, we also see the region declining each year with a median demographic age problem, and we want to see the region correct that. We feel this project can help correct that.” Members also share relevant information about green hydrogen. “The group serves as a hub for sharing positive news, updates, and information related to the green hydrogen industry,” said Sheppard. “Members will find a collection of resources highlighting the project’s benefits, potential economic growth from the project, job creation, and its role in advancing renewable energy initiatives. We want our MHAs, our government, and WEGH2 to know that our region wants this.” They have read over the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) presented by World Energy GH2. “Some members have engaged with the Environmental Impact Statement to address concerns raised by critics. However, the group predominantly focuses on showcasing the positive aspects and trusting in the government and WEGH2 to handle any environmental considerations responsibly. Canada has some of the strictest environmental laws in the world. We feel that the government and the company will abide by the rules. Additionally, this is a green project, and the environmental positives outweigh the negatives. The world is moving to a hydrogen economy,” said Sheppard. “Within the group, the prevailing sentiment is that the positive outcomes of the project will outweigh any potential drawbacks. The members largely believe in the benefits of renewable energy generation and the project’s contribution to the region’s growth. We want a future for our children, and our children’s children. This may be a way to ensure stability in the region for decades. If the world moves to a carbon offset economy, Newfoundland has the chance to be a main player and contributor.” That contribution could result in considerable benefits. “Key positives discussed within the group include the potential for clean and renewable energy, economic growth, job creation, and the region’s overall development,” said Sheppard. “A lot of people feel that this is an opportunity to prevent our youth from leaving the region. The project may not be the total answer, but we feel it can be a catalyst for positive growth and provide jobs in a new emerging energy sector. We think the snowball effect can be contagious.” On Saturday afternoon, despite the icy wind and snow flurries, hundreds in support of wind energy development gathered on the Stephenville ramp at 2:00 p.m. The intention wasn’t to discredit those who oppose it, but to show that that there are a lot of people who are anticipating great things for the region. “This is a positive rally. We’re here for a good cause and a good reason, so let’s keep this family friendly and positive. Let’s be respectful for everybody. If somebody has a differing opinion or just something they want to say, let’s just keep it positive. We want to hear all voices. That’s the whole idea of this rally is to make sure that we put a positive message out to the government and to World Energy GH2 that we want this program here. But also we’re going to be respectful to everybody and their opinions. So we’re going to set a good example for our community, for the province, for World Energy. We’re going to show them why they want to set up shop here,” said Sheppard who MC’d the rally. The long line of vehicles and people holding signs made it clear that many shared the same sentiments. “Look at all the signs. Green energy, sustainable energy futures. We can be a leader, not just in Newfoundland, not just in Canada, in the world for green energy development,” said Sheppard. “And this could put us on the map for a variety of different reasons, from everything, from future investment, from other organizations that say, hey, this is where we want to come and arrest our money, to tourism, to just being acknowledged as leaders in the world stage. This could be a turning point for not just this region, but for the province and for Canada.” Chief Peggy White attended to show her support. “We’ve been the silent majority. Let’s hear us roar. They say Indigenous people for this project are against the Mother Earth. That’s not true. This is a green project. This is getting us off of fossil fuels. This is making sure our children come home so we can transfer our knowledge, how we hunt, how we go in the woods, how we live on the land. If we don’t have our children here, we have nothing. This is our opportunity to bring our children home, our grandchildren. We don’t have to continue to live as seniors in our homes alone. This will bring up our wages for everyone across the board. Everyone. There’s enough work with billions of dollars to make sure all our families are safe,” said White. “We need this, all the bands. Flat Bay, St. George’s, Three Rivers, Benoit First Nation. We are all 100 per cent behind this because this is the future, and that for the first time in years after 40 years of infrastructure decline, we finally have a chance to have something to build on over the next generations. The money that the government will be able to collect from these projects will bring new businesses, doctors, put some stuff in our schools. We need to rebuild a strong community for everyone. And I’m so glad to see you all here because this is showing love for our families, our communities, and for Newfoundland.” Many residents also took the opportunity to voice their support. “I was raised and lived here most of my life. When the paper mill shut down in 2005, I was just a child. The memory that stayed with me from this event is the look of sadness and confusion on each child’s face as they went to school after the follow of the closure and said to goodbye to their friends and goodbye to their father for the first time before his flight. With no new industry to fill and replace the void that was left in the economy. We have had and still have family with no friends or no choice but to go search abroad for financially secure work. This project is a lifeline to the younger generation, such as myself, that dare to dream to be able to provide financial security, and above all, be there for their families. What this project means to myself and many others is to be able to start our families here, raise their children, roaming the same forests and fishing the same rivers, and being surrounded by family, friends and community. Because the greatest resource is the people of this region. This project brings opportunity to our children today and the future to have the option of staying in the place they were raised and making a good living with a globally positive impact,” said Patrick Mercer. “It gives hope to those abroad, many of us who have family and friends that have had to move away to get a chance, that will get a chance to come and start a career where FaceTime will not be on a phone, but around the dinner table. I have spent the better part of my 20s trying to figure out how to make a living in an area that was once abundant in work for generations past. In an effort to keep my roots in my homeland, I have worked in multiple industries trying to make this dream a reality. The unfortunate truth is that out of all the industries that I have worked in — construction, fishing, farming and mining — the output benefit to the environment has never been better than the input. I am currently now attending the Wind Turbine Technician Program held by College of North Atlantic, and I can say with honesty I have had no greater satisfaction when it comes to work than knowing that what I’m working towards will have positive impacts on this area and on the planet for future generations. However, this goal and this dream remains in limbo. If this project does not get the green light to go ahead, myself and many others who have moved back here in an effort to be closer friends and family, will again have to uproot and go away to find work, leaving everyone behind. Today we stand together on the precipice of history, where we can become global pioneers of a greener future and live with prosperity, or continue to be in an area where the feeling of loss becomes more and more familiar. Many people talk of their beliefs that we must leave our planet in better shape for our future generations. However, no one has had the direction to do so. This project is that step in the right direction.” People came from as far as St. John’s to show their support for the project, including Kelly Codnor, regional representative for NL with the Canadian Labour Congress. “Part of my role is to work with the 3.3 million workers across this country. We fight for better jobs and we fight for workers. We advocate for better working conditions and we ensure that politicians hear what workers want. And you folks here in the Port au Port Peninsula want this project. Canada’s economy is changing. Our economy must change with it. It must protect workers, ensure that these new jobs are viable for all workers, and they’re unionized good paying jobs, and they must also guarantee that there are pathways into these new jobs for women, Indigenous people, racialized people, and other equity diverse deserving groups. We have a bill in front of the Congress now in Ottawa, Bill C-50, and it’s the Sustainable Jobs Act, and it’s an important first step in Canada. Unions are pleased to reflect that it meets most of our priorities, and this bill will assist workers,” said Condor. “It will assist projects like the one here on the Port au Port Peninsula, and workers that hold the solutions will be paramount in creating these good sustainable jobs like the ones that are going to be here. The Sustainable Jobs Act needs to truly speak to the needs of working people, create good jobs and protect the workers in the communities, and this is an important first step for us. Canada’s unions want people and workers to understand that improvements that must be made and the actions that must be taken for Canada to be a global leader in good sustainable jobs like you’re going to see here. So I stand here with you today in solidarity and I support your actions for sustainable jobs and workers across this province and especially here on the west coast. So let’s get it done. Let’s get the people on the Port au Port Peninsula and the beautiful west coast of our province the jobs that they want in their community.” Rosemary Foley was also one of the residents in attendance. “I just want to show my support for the green energy, and, you know, I think it’s really good. I’ve lived in this community now for over four years, came here to teach for one year, and I’m still here, you know, so I’d like to see an increase in boosting the economy and young people be able to come home and work in the communities,” said Foley. “I really feel that hopefully today we’ll make a difference and show that there are a lot of people that are believing it, and I think it’s very important.” Bruce Power with the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters, Local 740, felt much the same. “I think it’s quite important. I left my home in Placentia this morning just to come here, and we’ve got a bunch of members here from Corner Brook, Stephenville and surrounding areas, some from the Port au Port, some not. We do have members who are against it, and they’re entitled to their opinion, and I respect that also.” Jim and Roslyn Nodine also showed up in solidarity. “We’re 100 per cent in favour of windmills,” said Jim. “Everyone has to either agree or disagree. But for our main agendas, it’s going to bring this town and the communities that are around all of Southwest coastal Newfoundland back to life.”

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