Oscar Urbina’s October 3 presentation to brief the Council of the Municipality of Colchester about the Kmtnuk wind project on behalf of its proponents, EverWind Fuels and Membertou’s Wind Strength, wasn’t his first appearance before the Council.
Urbina has spoken to Council twice before about wind project development in the county and as with those previous appearances, his most recent one left some councillors not just dissatisfied, but audibly fuming.
Urbina, development manager with Renewable Energy Systems (RES), presented a Powerpoint about the proposed 98-megawatt, 18-turbine Kmtnuk wind project slated for the Cobequid Hills just to the west of Nova Scotia Power’s 50.6 megawatt, 22-turbine Nuttby Mountain wind facility, visible from Highway 311.
Afterwards, councillors and Mayor Christine Blair asked myriad questions of Urbina — everything from how much of the wind energy would go to Point Tupper for the production of green hydrogen and ammonia for export to Europe, how much of the land for the wind facility was Crown and how much private, which wind turbines would be selected, how many kilometres of road would have to be built, to how exactly an “electricity subsidy fund” for local households would work.
Urbina was unable to answer those questions, and council members seemed frustrated.
‘You don’t have answers for our questions’
Deputy clerk for the Council, Tracey Veno, tells the Halifax Examiner that in February 2022, Urbina presented what was then Renewable Energy Systems’ proposed Windy Ridge to council, more than a year before EverWind became involved in the project.
Then in February this year, Urbina once again appeared before Council to comment on amendments to the municipality’s wind turbine development by-law.
His previous appearances help explain the following exchange between Councillor Tim Johnson and Urbina:
Johnson: You’ve been here before, haven’t you, Oscar, it’s not your first time?
Oscar Urbina: Yes. [Urbina’s exact words were often difficult to make out as he spoke softly and not directly into his microphone.]
Johnson: Did you learn anything from the first presentation when you took it away? I’m just sitting here thinking out loud, “I can read a presentation on my laptop at home.” The most important thing you are to us, sitting in front of us, is to answer our questions. If I remember the first time you came, you left with a lot of questions that weren’t answered. And I’m finding the same thing here tonight, and I don’t really appreciate that. I respect my time and I respect you coming here. But I would like answers to some of these questions that we’re asking. It almost feels like you don’t [sic] take us for granted when you’re sitting here in front of us, in that you don’t have the answers for our questions. If you don’t have them, I would like someone else to come along with you and give them to us … So next time you come back, I hope they’re more prepared than you are tonight.
Despite the lack of answers to specific questions, Urbina told Council that the plan is still to submit the Kmtnuk project to Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change for environmental assessment by the end of October, to start construction of the Kmtnuk wind facility in 2024, and have it in full operation by the end of 2025.
At one point, Mayor Christine Blair quipped to Urbina that it would be “nice to have the answers upfront on what we’re going to be dealing with if this is approved,” advising Urbina, “We do have our rules.”
Councillor Mike Cooper complained to Urbina that both the Powerpoint slides and the handouts were “absolutely useless” to him, and that he could see nothing on the screen or in the handouts. Cooper said he would go to the website to see if he could find anything better, adding that if people were coming to present a project to council, “it would be nice if we could really get a full sense of it from the beginning.”
Councillor Marie Benoit asked Urbina to explain why the energy from a wind farm in Colchester County would be used to produce hydrogen in Point Tupper, which in turn would produce ammonia for export to Europe.
Urbina answered that he would “probably” be able to get someone “from the hydrogen side” of the project to answer that question.
Urbina confirmed that the Kmtnuk project is 51% owned by Membertou, and that EverWind will sell the green energy it produces to Nova Scotia Power, which will then sell EverWind an equivalent amount of electricity from the grid so EverWind can produce green hydrogen and ammonia in Point Tupper, largely for export.
Nevertheless, neither Membertou nor EverWind sent representatives to the Council meeting to help answer questions about the Kmtnuk project.
Evolving story, elusive answers
Those who have been following the Halifax Examiner’s ongoing coverage of the EverWind Fuels’ green hydrogen story will know that it has not always been easy to get clear answers from EverWind, and that the company has offered a lot of contradictory information, which has evolved significantly in the past year since we first started reporting on the green hydrogen push in Nova Scotia.
EverWind has now held two open houses in Earltown for the proposed Kmtnuk wind project, as it has for a second large wind farm it is proposing for Bear Lake, near the community of Vaughan in Hants County, and abutting the South Panuke Wilderness Area.
The presentation that Urbina and Angus Doane of Strum Consulting gave to Colchester Municipal Council contained nearly all the same slides on the Kmtnuk proposal that were on display in Earltown for the September 21 open house.
However, at the September open house, Urbina and Doane were not on their own trying to answer questions about the project. Membertou sent a representative, and EverWind sent Daniel Lee, its senior manager of corporate development, and its vice president power, Brendan Chard, who joined EverWind in February this year after two decades with Emera and Nova Scotia Power.
At that open house, the Examiner asked Urbina, Lee and Chard how much land would be affected by the 18-turbine Kmtnuk project. Lee and Chard deferred to Urbina, who said the project would comprise only 16 turbines. (Oddly, the slide on display at the open house in Earltown showed 18.)
Urbina replied, “Normally it’s an acre per turbine, plus the roads.”
The Examiner persisted, asking about the whole area that would comprise the wind farm and thus be affected by all the turbines and transmission lines and roads.
At that point, Lee intervened, saying, “Can I ask what is the concern?” He explained that an acre of trees would be cleared for each turbine and there would be some paths and roads.
None of the three asked were able, or willing, to say what total area of forest land would be affected by the Kmtnuk wind farm.
Nor would they say how much land would be needed for the absolutely massive wind facility with 300 or more turbines that EverWind says it will be putting up in Guysborough County, boasting that it will be “the largest in the Western Hemisphere.”
More and much bigger wind projects to come
Before the Guysborough project, however, EverWind intends to put up a second very large wind facility in Colchester County — the Windy Ridge project originally proposed by RES in 2022, located about six kilometres northwest of Debert.
The Windy Ridge project was the focus of a second presentation to Colchester Municipal Council on October 3, not from the project’s proponents but from some of its critics.
After Urbina finished his presentation on the Kmtnuk wind project, three representatives of the citizens’ group Protect Wentworth Valley told Council about their concerns about the proliferation and cumulative effects of large, industrial wind facilities slated for Wentworth Valley in Cumberland County, and through Colchester County.
The Protect Wentworth Valley presentation looked closely at the Windy Ridge project, located just to the west of the Kmtnuk wind project, which in turn is to be located just to the west of Nova Scotia Power’s Nuttby Mountain wind facility.
The 340-megawatt Windy Ridge project would be more than three times larger than the Kmtnuk project, with as many as 58 turbines. That makes it nearly twice as big as the 34-turbine South Canoe wind facility operated by Oxford Frozen Foods, currently Nova Scotia’s largest wind farm.
Protect Wentworth Valley member Nancy Frame told Council that in addition to their ongoing concerns about the “risk to ecosystems, natural beauty, economic activity, recreation activities, biodiversity, health, quality of life” that they believe a project the magnitude of Windy Ridge poses, the group is also concerned about the use of the energy the facility will be produce. Said Frame:
There is a big shortage of renewable energy in our province. There is not nearly enough for Nova Scotia’s domestic needs and we have a long way to go to get our grid off coal. So why are we supporting projects that will need absolutely massive amounts of renewable energy to produce hydrogen, which will be turned into ammonia and exported?
Another of the Protect Wentworth Valley members who presented to Council was Garfield Moffatt.
In a telephone interview, Moffatt says the concern is that Colchester Municipal Council is still working on a provincially mandated municipal planning strategy and land-use by-laws, which would involve zoning.
“They have to have this completed by the end of 2024,” Moffatt explains. “So it would seem to me they are putting the cart before the horse to engage in further industrialization of a rural and wilderness area when they’re on the precipice of being able to determine land use plans and zoning.”
Moffat doesn’t think it makes sense that council would “go head with what might be a billion-dollar project in the middle of the wilderness, when they’re on the cusp of being able to zone where they want them [such projects], and where they don’t want these things to go.”
Moffatt says the Protect Wentworth Valley group is specifically concerned about the cumulative effects of the Windy Ridge and Kmtnuk projects on the entire area, given the 100-MW Higgins Mountain wind project already approved for Wentworth, and another in Westchester.
Protect Wentworth Valley estimates that the cumulative area for wind projects proposed for Colchester and Cumberland Countries is 94,000 hectares (more than 232,000 acres).
“We understand the micro-issues around tactical placements of wind turbines relative to receptor sites, and the noise issues and those kinds of things,” Moffatt says. “But what happens with all of those together. What happens to a community when you stick 150 of these turbines around them, in places where people live?”
Leasing Northern Pulp lands for wind farms
The Examiner learned at open houses for the Higgins Mountain wind project, and at the recent open house for EverWind’s Kmtnuk wind project, that both the Higgins and Windy Ridge projects are on land owned by Northern Pulp, a Paper Excellence company that owns the hibernating Pictou pulp mill.
Spokespersons for the Higgins wind project told the Examiner at open houses in Wentworth that it has been leasing land in Wentworth Valley from Northern Pulp for some years.
The Examiner sent two emails to EverWind asking for details of land leases being negotiated or signed with Northern Pulp for the Windy Ridge project, among other questions. We received a statement from an unnamed person in response to the second email, part of which reads:
I also want to confirm that progress on our EA [environmental assessment] submissions remains on schedule and we remain in close contact with the provincial government regarding any additional information they may require. As part of this process we are engaged with both the provincial government and local property owners to ensure we have the right combination of private and crown land necessary to ensure the highest standards of sustainability while minimizing impact on the local community.
Questions about the Northern Pulp land and lease were not answered.
The Northern Pulp lands are part of the 475,000 acres (192,225 hectares) of Nova Scotia woodland that Northern Pulp purchased from Neenah Paper in 2010 with a 30-year $75 million loan from the provincial NDP government of Darrell Dexter. The deal included a hidden gift of $7 million to Northern Pulp, when the province immediately purchased 55,000 acres (22,258 hectares) of that land for 1.7 times the price Northern Pulp paid per acre.
Less than a year after the loan and land purchase, Paper Excellence acquired Northern Pulp from U.S. private equity companies Atlas Holdings and Blue Wolf Capital.
Since Northern Pulp and its affiliates – all owned by Paper Excellence that is part of the massive global corporate empire of the multi-billionaire Widjaja (also Wijaya) family of Indonesia – sought creditor protection in the British Columbia Supreme Court in June 2020, Northern Pulp has not been making payments on that provincial loan.
Court documents show that Northern Pulp, a Paper Excellence company that the Examiner investigated in depth in the Deforestation Inc series on which it worked with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, still owes the province of Nova Scotia nearly $65 million on that land loan, even as it leases those lands to large corporations for large wind farms.
And that, says Garfield Moffatt, “shocks me to no end.”
“I’ve been beating that drum that the land [Northern Pulp bought] could easily become Crown land, but I don’t think it’s going to.”
In their presentation to Council, Protect Wentworth Valley said they are looking for a “pause” in the development of industrial wind farms in their region, while Council does its work on land-use planning and zoning.
“PLEASE PAUSE!!!” stated their final slide.