This evening, the Council of the Municipality of Colchester County will make a crucial decision on amendments to its Wind Turbine Development By-law.
The notice of intent for the meeting states that if the amendments are approved, there will be “no new development license applications for wind turbines in the county before December 2024, when a county-wide Municipal Planning Strategy and Land use by-law is completed.”
Together those projects would see a total of 74 turbines erected on more than 32,000 acres of mostly forested land in the Cobequid Mountains.
The company is counting on those wind projects, along with a third one at Bear Lake at the intersection of West Hants, Chester and Halifax municipalities, to produce green energy to power the first phase of its green hydrogen production in Point Tupper. The plan is to convert the hydrogen to green ammonia for shipping to Europe.
Earlier this year, EverWind told the Examiner that the first phase of the project will entail the production of 200,000 tonnes of green hydrogen and ammonia in 2025.
The EverWind spokesperson, who is no longer with the company, said in phase two in 2026, EverWind will produce a million tonnes of green hydrogen and ammonia a year, which will require a great deal more green energy.
That would come from a new solar farm and a far bigger wind project with more than 300 turbines the company aims to erect in Guysborough County, in what EverWind boasts will be “the largest onshore wind farm in the Western Hemisphere.”
In an interview at a November 10 open house for its Windy Ridge and Kmtnuk projects, EverWind public affairs director Adam Langer told the Examiner the schedule still holds.
Langer said there has been some land clearing done in Point Tupper for the hydrogen and ammonia plant, but said the plans for the plant are still in development. EverWind’s Daniel Lee added that the company is still working on meeting the conditions of the environmental approval for the plants.
EverWind’s plans up in the air
The open house presentation materials show EverWind plans to start constructing the 16-turbine, 98-megawatt Kmtnuk wind project by the summer of 2024 and commission it by December 2025. It aims to construct the much larger 58-turbine, 340-megawatt Windy Ridge project in the fall of 2024, for completion in early 2025 or mid-2026.
So this evening’s Council meeting is crunch time for those projects.
If the Colchester Municipal Council approves the amendments to its turbine by-law and puts all wind projects on hold until the end of 2024, EverWind will have to go back to the drawing board.
Just over a month ago, councillors expressed serious doubts about the wind projects. At that October 3 meeting, EverWind didn’t send its own representatives to present to Council, relying instead on a consultant and a representative of its partner, Renewable Energy Systems.
The ‘A-team’ shows up … finally
On Tuesday evening this week, EverWind had a second chance to present its wind and hydrogen projects to Council.
This time, they took no chances, showing up with what one councillor called the “A-team” to make a presentation and answer questions about their wind and hydrogen projects.
The A-team was led by EverWind founder and CEO, Trent Vichie.
Vichie’s appearance before Council on Tuesday evening was clearly designed to mollify councillors concerned by all the unanswered questions about EverWind’s wind and green hydrogen projects during the October 3 meeting.
Vichie, who made his fortune in the private equity business in New York before founding EverWind Fuels and turning his attention to green hydrogen in Nova Scotia, didn’t come to the meeting alone.
Beside him was Nova Scotian Brendan Chard, who is now vice president of power with EverWind, after spending almost a decade with Nova Scotia Power after a decade with its parent company, Emera. Also there was Rebecca Crump of Renewable Energy Systems (RES) that co-owns the Windy Ridge project, and environmental scientist Nicole MacDonald of CBCL Limited.
When they had the chance to speak, Chard, Crump, and MacDonald provided coherent and important information about the wind projects, the energy they would produce, and what can be done to minimize environmental impacts to appease concerns of people in the county.
Vichie, however, did most of the talking. And talk he did.
The hard sell
Councillor Tim Johnson asked Vichie what a pause until the end of next year would do to his project, what would happen to his timeline should Council approve the amendments to the by-law on wind turbines.
Vichie’s response, like many of his interventions at the Tuesday Council meeting, was long-winded and meandering, and not completely clear:
To be honest, I’ve no idea. But it would throw us into sort of chaos. We’ve been trying to work for two years to actually get power or some sort of arrangement between government [and] utility. And we’ve now spent a massive amount of money. To be honest, it would be, like you guys change the rules all the time. Like, we can work with rules, but when the rules change late in the game, it’s really hard. Like people want to invest. Okay? Like, if people, like, we’re trying our best, so I don’t wanna give a definitive answer, but I’ve had to, how should I say, I’ve had the rules changed a lot since I’ve started this project. A lot. And it’s not the folks in this room. I’m talking about dealing with utility, government, other things. And like I said, there’s a straw that breaks the camel’s back at some point. Like, I don’t want to be as bleak as that, but it is hard. It’s expensive, it’s time consuming, and we’re trying to actually do something to, you know, there’s a benefit for actually being early. And sitting here today, like Nova Scotia’s not like Quebec. It’s not like Newfoundland. Like you’re sitting on like the largest percentage of fossil fuels of the whole country. You actually need this sort of a project to actually integrate renewables. Like we’ve even got storage tanks at the at the site [Point Tupper] there as well. I’ve been thinking about how we use those like to sort of provide benefits to the province. Like why is this is important? Like for me, this is mission, you know, do you want people to come? Is Nova Scotia open to business or not? We try really hard to work through all these things. I won’t say any more.
Councillor Victoria Lomond asked more or less the same question, saying she was hoping “for a bit of a clearer answer.”
Lomond said she had asked specifically each night at the open houses, each night to a different person, what EverWind would do if the amendments were approved and wind applications were thus delayed until December 2024.
“I was told unequivocally three times, ‘We go away’,” Lomond said to Vichie.
This is part of Vichie’s response, which lasted nearly five minutes:
I think there’s a pretty fair chance that if we get to a situation where you’ve asked, like you go through a by-law and we planned and invested. [Vichie pauses, searching for words] To develop a project like this it’s incredibly expensive. And I would say that [pauses] I don’t want to say that definitively, but … it makes it very hard because it’s not just some of the work we’ve been doing here. It’s been, and it’s taken a long, long, long time and a lot of money to actually, like drive through all of these various things. And some of that is actually just necessary because like, I get it, like people haven’t heard of this before, but like it is happening around the world. But, ah, it’s hard to sort of develop an economy when you’ve got a set of rules in front of you, you know, and then they change… And so, you know, we’re here to sort of do the work as well. So, look, we’re trying our best here. But … when you put like, you know, a huge amount of money at risk that I was never given, I had to work for it. But I don’t always sit around and I want to do something positive. Like, what would the delay do? I don’t know, send a bad message to me.
… You get to one year, it’s another year … Investment happens with certainty. And, you know, that’s the only way it really happens. And sitting here today, I mean, the industry does watch. They watch that sign.
Towards the end of the meeting, Councillor Laurie Sandeson advised Vichie:
This amendment on our by-law, to what I understand and prove me wrong, please, is not about this particular wind development. It is about what we want for Colchester and is about all of the ones [wind projects] that are going to come after you, in January and February. We know how important wind is here. We know how good wind is here, or you guys wouldn’t be knocking down our doors, as other businesses will be. I don’t know of any other projects, but I expect they’re going to come out of the woodwork. That’s just my assumption. And we really do need to get our ducks in a row and decide, is this what we want? So please don’t take offense to that. I hope you haven’t. This is much bigger than this particular project.
Giving Nova Scotia ‘a chance to shine’
It’s hard to say whether Vichie did himself a service by showing up at the Council meeting, where he went on at length about himself, about his belief that his project is The Big One for the province, and his claims that it is also the best — the only — way for Nova Scotians to get off fossil fuels and clean the grid and reduce its carbon emissions.
He talked a lot, and he talked fast.
Justified or not, suspicions run deep in Atlantic Canada that has had no shortage of fast-talking, self-proclaimed saviours who have shown up over the years promising to solve big problems and make everyone rich.
Vichie spoke about his simple Australian roots, saying he comes “from nothing.” He told Council how “hard” the work is, saying, “I’ve been working my backside off,” and “I’ve never worked so hard in my life, like weekends.”
He’s also spent “a huge amount of money” — $200 million he said.
Vichie said the EverWind project will, “give Nova Scotia a chance to shine” in a place where it “really, really, really should.”
“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to be there,” Vichie told Council.
Vichie said he thinks EverWind has invested “more than a million dollars in just various charitable activities.”
He also had plenty to say about how Nova Scotia could shape up. “I think the issue out in this part of the world is, you know, it can be a little bit of the forgotten child of Ontario and Quebec, all those other places. Like this is an opportunity for Nova Scotia to stand up, actually, and build a world class industry.”
Vichie told the council that EverWind had signed a memorandum of understanding “for the supply of oxygen for the Canso spaceport, and hydrogen, so there’s some chance that we might be able to fire the first carbon-free rocket in the world.”
Saving health care?
When Councillor Tim Johnson asked Vichie if the economic impacts and benefits of the wind projects were worth the trade-off “regarding the visibility of wind turbines, increased traffic on the Cobequid Mountains, and changing our once-pristine rural landscape forever,” Vichie gave a long, rambling answer. This is part of it:
As I sit here today, like Nova Scotia is sort of a net receiver of money into the economy, particularly as you’re getting older. Like you see Alberta talking about pulling out of CPP [Canadian Pension Plan]. Why is that? I mean, but it’s because they think it would be cheaper for them. But their politicians are taking easy bait to say that, you know, we’re throwing all this money away and other provinces aren’t willing to do something.
Later, Vichie recounted an anecdote about Nova Scotia medical care:
I ended up being partners with a local gentleman, Dave Morgan, up in Port Hawkesbury, and he got sick. He had some sort of like a pancreatitis or something like that. Like he couldn’t get to see a doctor for like three months. But he was like, you know, it was like really, really, really hard. And so it just certainly highlighted to me that like with sort of the population profile, like some level of economic support, like people don’t want to have fossil fuel development here. Like, I can’t think of something better, like because there’s nothing worse than like looking at your friend and you can’t get him to a bloody doctor. And he’s like, we don’t know what’s wrong with him. But there’s just no one there to see him. I think the premier is trying really hard on all of that, but at the end of the day it’s like, with demographics, it’s a money issue as well. Like, there’s so much that can be done. Like in terms of actually the longer term here for this … we’ve had studies done by Deloitte that these initiatives can lift the GDP of Nova Scotia by 10%. Like actually you know, like real money. I mean we’re talking, you know, in the billions of GDP.
This anecdote didn’t go over well with Councillor Karen MacKenzie, who told Vichie she took offence at his talk about physicians in Nova Scotia, which she said he mentioned twice.
When he tried to interrupt her and apologize, MacKenzie reprimanded him, saying:
Wait now, let me speak. I got to tell you, 74 turbines and some kind of a plant in Port Hawkesbury. I don’t think when we’re trying to bring in physicians that we’re going to pull that out of our hat and say, you should come here because. I took my mother to emerg[ency]. She was seen by a physician by 7:30 and we were all home by nine. We don’t have the best health care in the country, but we do have health care here in Nova Scotia. So you’ve said it twice.
Here, Vichie tried again to intervene, but MacKenzie was having none of it:
No, you don’t have to respond. I’m just saying. The second thing that I’m kind of getting out of this is I’ve heard you say we don’t have a complete environmental assessment, “We’re working on it, but it’s not done yet.” I’ve heard you say tonight “we don’t have a design working on it, but it’s not done yet.” I’ve heard you say “we don’t really have the engineering yet, but we’re going to work on it so we don’t have it yet.” And I’ve heard you say you’ve spent $200 million on something that hasn’t got an environmental assessment, hasn’t got a design and doesn’t have any engineering. So I’m not so sure … [Vichie tries here to intervene again]. Let me finish. So I’m not so sure we haven’t put the cart before the horse. Well, let me finish. Just my opinion. You can answer it when I’m done. Brendan, I’ve heard you say we spend millions of dollars importing coal and oil. My understanding, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, is this project is going to export green energy to Europe. Isn’t going to be used here in Nova Scotia. So the question that I have got a zillion times this week from, and I’m not in the area that these folks are, I’m in urban, I’m in the urban core. So there aren’t going to be any turbines in my backyard or anybody that I represent. So you’re putting 74 turbines between Folly Lake and Masstown. The power that is generated on those turbines are going to go to a Nova Scotia power grid, to some plant that you purchased in Port Hawkesbury, that this is what this is what telling you what I know you can correct me if I’m wrong to some plant in Port Hawkesbury that’s going to take the green hydrogen, turn it into ammonia, which apparently there’s a lack of in this world for fertilizer and you’re going to send it to Germany or to Europe. How does that make Nova Scotia and Colchester County clean?
Vichie told Council that the energy from the wind projects would be “spilling” into the system in the wintertime, when Nova Scotia Power would need extra electricity, at which point EverWind could pause or reduce its hydrogen production.
Brendan Chard said there would be two situations when the wind power would be available for Nova Scotians. “If we are producing more wind than we can consume at our production facility, then that will be available for Nova Scotia Power and for Nova Scotia customers,” he said.
“If there is a time when Nova Scotia Power needs the energy to service its customers,” Chard said, “Nova Scotia Power can tell us to stop producing green hydrogen, and that energy will go onto the grid to serve Nova Scotians.”
A crucial vote and it’s anyone’s guess
Some councillors seemed reasonably satisfied with the answers they received from Vichie and his team, and mollified by big promises that the project would result in lower electricity rates and a cleaner grid.
But there is no doubt this evening’s Council meeting will be contentious.
On Tuesday evening about a dozen protesters showed up outside Council chambers with signs, honking horns and shouting during the meeting inside. It seems likely they will be back later today.
EverWind has also been trying to drum up support for its wind projects, urging people to tell their councillors they support wind energy development.
It’s impossible to know how Council will vote, given the veiled messages from EverWind that if the amendments pass, it will be game over for the wind projects. A few councillors expressed their support for wind energy to reduce emissions and tackle climate change, but questioned if EverWind’s use of wind energy to produce hydrogen was the best use for it.
Some members of the public who attended Tuesday’s meeting have told the Halifax Examiner they were unimpressed by Vichie’s performance.
One said in an email that Vichie did far too much talking, noting, “If I were part of their communication team, I would tell him to shut the fuck up.”
“He put his foot in his mouth repeatedly, was arrogant although he probably didn’t realize it, and more or less suggested that Nova Scotia was a pretty backward place,” he wrote.
He added that Vichie seems to think “Nova Scotia needs him to help elevate us into the 21st century.”
However, he said he was pleased with the Council members, who “didn’t roll over and asked some pretty hard questions, especially the women.”
He also observed that Vichie’s project puts a lot of pressure on Council members.
“From what various Council members said I couldn’t speculate how the vote will go,” he wrote. “There is certainly opposition, but when push comes to shove they will have trouble walking way from the investment opportunity for the County. It was clear however, that Councillors know there is a great deal of opposition in the surrounding communities.”
This evening’s Council meeting will be held in the Municipal Building, 1 Church Street in Truro, starting at 6pm. Virtual attendance is also possible, but attendees need to register before 3:30pm today with email@example.com, or by calling 902-897-3170.