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Wind energy opens to bids

Private companies pinpoint PAB and neighbouring areas as ‘prime location’

From left: Susan Wilkins, Executive Director of Renewable Energy; Andrew Parsons (centre), Minister of Industry, Energy and Technology; and Craig Martin, Associate Deputy Minister with Industry, Energy and Technology during a press conference updating the province’s plan to proceed with wind energy development on Wednesday, Dec. 14. – via YouTube

By Rosalyn Roy Senior Staff Reporter

SOUTHWEST COAST — One year after announcing a renewable energy plan to help transition the province into a low carbon economy, MHA Andrew Parsons, Minister of Industry, Energy and Technology (IET) provided an update on wind farm development via a live stream press conference on Wednesday, Dec. 14. Parsons was joined by Susan Wilkins, Executive Director of Renewable Energy, and Craig Martin, Associate Deputy Minister with IET for the presser.

In order to make the transition to renewable energy like wind farms, the province has had to build policy for an industry that is still new and emerging, while bearing in mind not only the needs of industry and stakeholders, but ensuring that residents will reap long-term benefits.

“We have a colourful history when it comes to resource development in this province,” said Parsons during the question and answer segment.

In April, the province officially lifted the moratorium on wind development. In July, it opened nominations for areas that might be suitable for wind energy development, and by October a total of 73 projects proposed through 31 land nomination submissions, which Parsons said demonstrated a significant level of interest in this province for wind and hydrogen energy development. The province has released guidelines on land packages that are now available for developers to bid on. The interactive map, which is available online at: https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/da629a3b486748fa9c3521af248009ce, shows sections of land available along the Southwest coast region, including the Codroy Pond area, down through the Wreckhouse, Channel-Port aux Basques, and stretching along the coastline parallel to Route 470, including near Isle aux Morts and continuing all the way down past Burgeo.

After consulting with stakeholders, including Indigenous populations and 36 different departments and agencies, the government withdrew 2 million hectares of land that were deemed unsuitable due to concerns surrounding flora, fauna or watershed. Farming and mining developments, such as the Matador Mining Cape Ray Gold Shield, were also factored into the map. That still leaves roughly 1.8 million hectares of land available for wind energy development bids. The bidding will close at midnight on March 3, 2023.

The fiscal framework surrounding the process is expected to be finalized and released in early January. Parsons explained that the land and resources that developers will use in fact belongs to the residents of the province, and the province will have to see a benefit in return.

“Right now people are very familiar with the oil formula that we use, where you bid on a piece of land and it’s the highest bidder that gets it. We didn’t want to necessarily go with that approach,” said Parsons. “We want viable projects that will go forward, not just somebody with deep pockets coming in and tying up pieces of land and we don’t see anything out of that.”

There has been vocal opposition to the proposed World Energy GH2 development on the Port au Port peninsula. Some of their proposed land parcels were removed in the new map. Parsons said that the only real push back he’s seen has been on the West coast, but noted that most communities are very supportive because they foresee the long-term economic benefits. In the future, there will be more opportunities for residents, environmental groups, Indigenous groups and other stakeholders to ask questions and voice concerns before any project moves past the second phase of the evaluation process, which will begin in April 2023.

“There is a social license component to this I think. Does a company want to invest in an area where they think there’s push back?” asked Parsons. “But right now I’ve not had anything expressed to me that makes me think that we shouldn’t at least continue forward.”

One of the bigger concerns is the capacity of the existing power grid. These first wind energy developments are intended for export, and not for provincial residential use.

“We do have a capacity issue when it comes to power here in the province,” said Parsons. “Depending on what companies put forward in their bid, that may or may not have a significant role to play on whether they’re viable or not. Some companies may not require that power from the grid. They may find a way to self-generate.”

Later that evening, Parsons did confirm that getting wind energy put into the grid is part of the province’s long term plan.

“We’re going to have a demand eventually, but that requires work with Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, the PUB, because the other thing too is, yeah, you can generate electricity, but what is the cost? Because we want the least cost option. Whatever energy we buy for rate payers, we have to purchase the least cost option and wind still, in many places, is heavily subsidized. We don’t plan on subsidizing.”

Parsons said that NL Hydro is still looking at its own remaining untapped opportunities, such as Upper Churchill expansion, Gull Island, Bay D’Espoir, and Torrent River, just to name a few.

“So to me it comes down to what’s the best cost option?” said Parsons, noting current energy rates. “This is it. We want the best system, most reliable, but at the same time cost is always a driving factor.”

Although Parsons fully anticipates there will also be offshore wind development, he cannot offer much more on that yet.

“”Right now onshore is most economically feasible, plus the fact that it resides within our jurisdiction, so it’s much easier to move forward.”

The federal government will play a larger role in offshore energy.

“There’s going to be a market for it and we have had interest. I saw interest before, on the West coast,” said Parsons. “It’s coming and there’s work being done.”

Despite the moratorium, wind energy has been around for a while in this province already.

“There’s a couple. Down in St. Lawrence and down in Fermuse there are already private operations. I think Nain has a micro-grid operation because, again, in remote areas we’re working at getting off of diesel,” said Parsons.

Then there’s Ramea, which had been set up as a kind of pilot project, but Parsons believes there’s a private operator down there now.

“So it’s to help deal with local needs.”

Along the Southwest coast region, Parsons confirmed that some local governments have already reached out to private developers about opportunities within their municipalities or districts, including the Town of Channel-Port aux Basques.

“There has been private proponent interest in the Southwest coast and they have been on site,” said Parsons. “One of the best and biggest areas of interest is the West and Southwest coast.”

Whether there’s an actual opportunity for Wreckhouse development, given the force of the winds that blow through the area regularly topple transport trailers, remains to be seen, but a large section of the interactive map shows much of the rest of the region also open for initial development bids.

Developments that fall within a municipal riding would be subject to tax revenues, but outside a town that wouldn’t be the case, and it will be up to local leaders and private operators to work together to figure out a way to ensure the wind farms are mutually beneficial.

“What would a local benefits agreement type deal look like,” said Parsons. “In most cases they’re not looking within a municipality or within a jurisdiction. In some cases they are. So to each company it will be different. But I’ve always stressed that the best way to make something happen is to get local buy in, and locals should benefit from projects that are within their range, we’ll say.”

Matador Mining has office space in Port aux Basques, but operates outside of any municipality. Parsons said a wind farm development might follow a similar model. The region’s deep water port access, workforce, fabrication capabilities and other existing resources have already drawn attention from private developers.

“Port aux Basques and area is a prime location.”

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