On Friday, Canada’s minister of housing, infrastructure and communities and MP for Central Nova, Sean Fraser, announced a $125 million federal investment in EverWind Fuels.
EverWind plans to build massive wind farms in Nova Scotia and use the green energy to produce green hydrogen and ammonia in a plant it wants to build in Point Tupper. The ammonia will mostly be shipped to Europe.
The press release states that Fraser made the announcement “alongside Trent Vichie, CEO of EverWind Fuels, Chief Terry Paul, Membertou First Nation; Chief Cory Julian, Paqtnkek First Nation; Chief Wilbert Marshall, Potlotek First Nation; and Mike Kelloway, Member of Parliament for Cape Breton Canso.”
The press release also notes that, “EverWind Fuels and Export Development Canada have reached an agreement in principle on terms for a $125M debt facility to support the project, pending final due diligence.”
So nothing signed along the bottom line yet, but a hefty chunk of public money for Trent Vichie’s company EverWind Fuels, a subsidiary of three New York companies that Vichie also owns.
The announcement, made in Port Hawkesbury, that the public would be financing Vichie’s EverWind to the tune of $125 million came just hours after the Colchester Municipal Council defeated a motion to approve amendments to its own Wind Turbine Act.
Had the amendments been approved, they would have delayed any new wind projects until December 2024, when Colchester County will have completed its own Municipal Planning Strategy and Land Use by-law.
But council decided EverWind projects took precedence over the municipal planning and land use legislation.
At a special council meeting on Nov. 16, a majority of councillors spoke in favour of two new and enormous wind projects — a total of 74 giant turbines spread over 32,000 acres — that EverWind has proposed for Colchester County.
Mayor Christine Blair’s and the councillors’ support for EverWind was a remarkable reversal. As the Halifax Examiner reported here, just over a month earlier, council had been very critical of EverWind’s presentation of the Kmtnuk wind project it has planned for the county.
Council’s decision on Nov. 16 to support EverWind and defeat a motion to pause new wind projects came just two days after Trent Vichie appeared before council and did a lot of fast-talking, with grandiose claims about his motivation and his project.
Last Friday’s announcement of federal financing for EverWind also came exactly a week after the Halifax Examiner reported on the company’s latest PR push and lobbying for money and tax breaks in Ottawa.
It looks as if all the PR and lobbying have started to pay off.
The press release about the $125 million loan to EverWind said it would “support clean power generation and clean hydrogen production that will be able to be exported to markets in Germany and around the world, as well as for domestic consumption.”
This investment will help build out the infrastructure that sets the economic foundation of our region for decades to come. Projects like EverWind will help put Atlantic Canada on the global stage as not only an incredible place to invest, but as a leader on clean, renewable energy.”
And this is what Trent Vichie had to say:
The green energy hubs of tomorrow are being determined today. The federal government’s support recognizes the immense work required to stand up this new industry, and gets closer to a greener world, and an economically prosperous Atlantic Canada. We are proud of our achievements made over these last two years working shoulder to shoulder with our First Nations partners, and all that have shown support.
The quotes from dignitaries at Friday’s announcement were so flowery they could have adorned a wedding hall.
Loan ‘very questionable’
Not everyone was so impressed.
Paul Martin is a chemical engineer with a 30-year history of working with, making, and using hydrogen, and a member of the Hydrogen Science Coalition. He describes himself as a “tireless advocate for a fossil fuel-free future,” and calls the hype over hydrogen for decarbonisation “an epidemic of hopium addiction,” a “combination of wishful thinking, magical thinking and green-wishing.”
In Martin’s view, the hydrogen push is a distraction, and it would be far better to use renewable electricity directly, rather than to produce ammonia from hydrogen, or bulky hydrogen that would need to be stored.
Asked for his reaction to Friday’s announcement, Martin replied, “EverWind’s value proposition in selling ammonia to Germany for use as energy is very questionable, and so EDC [Export Development Canada] giving them $125 million in loans is also very questionable.”
In an interview earlier this year, Martin told the Examiner he is skeptical that projects like EverWind’s are a step towards decarbonisation in Nova Scotia, or anywhere else.
Martin said the project is “either a subsidy-harvesting scheme or something else other than earnest,” adding:
It is not an efficient decarbonisation strategy, even if the ammonia purchased by Germany were not wasted as a fuel or to make hydrogen again, but rather was used in German chemical plants and agriculture.
Which brings us to the question of just what the hydrogen and ammonia will be used for?
For whom the wind and hydrogen?
In recent weeks, EverWind has been working hard to convince Nova Scotians that the wind energy it produces at the four massive wind projects it is planning will benefit them. Together, those projects entail about 400 giant new turbines in Guysborough, Colchester, and at the intersection of West Hants, Chester and Halifax municipalities.
Speaking to Colchester Council on Nov. 14, Vichie said EverWind would be “spilling wind” into the Nova Scotia grid, “when in wintertime and stopping you burning coal.”
Vichie assured council that this would result in a reduction of fossil fuel usage of “about 20%.”
At a Nov. 10 open house EverWind hosted in North River to showcase its Windy Ridge and Kmtnuk projects in Colchester County, EverWind vice president of power Brendan Chard told the Examiner that the province’s new Clean Power Plan references the use of hydrogen. Chard explained:
So the flexible fuel generation that will be built in the province, if it’s hydrogen capable, which is part of the Clean Power Plan, we will be able to supply green hydrogen or ammonia from our facility to Nova Scotia Power, or whoever builds the generation to be able to use that clean fuel in the province as a peaking generation source replacing either natural gas or coal or other fossil fuels.
In new flexible fuel generation that would be built, it could also be put into existing plants in a blend, but there will be 100% hydrogen-capable generators that will be on the market and available for use here.
The Clean Power Plan states:
- By 2030, and with coal closed, the NS system will still need options that can run for a few days if it is not windy, to ensure power during winter peaks, or should storms/events impact transmission lines.
- This will require a certain, limited amount of new, fast-acting, dispatchable generation by 2027.
- Manufacturers are designing new units capable of burning green hydrogen or bio-fuels to reduce GHGs. Before investments are made, options that could use a domestic clean fuel will be considered.
Sounds more as if hydrogen is one of several possible options in years to come than part of any firm “plan” at this point.
It also remains to be seen how much green hydrogen and ammonia EverWind will be able to produce with the electricity produced by the four huge wind projects it has planned. First, it needs to build its hydrogen and ammonia facility in Point Tupper, and the giant wind farms.
None has even been started yet.
Ammonia for export
For that ammonia to qualify as “green” every kilogram of it has to be produced with 100% renewable energy produced here in Nova Scotia, where more than half of the energy on the grid still comes from fossil fuels — 35% coal, 15% fossil gas, and 2% oil.
From the beginning, the raison d’être of the EverWind project — like others that sprang out of nowhere in Atlantic Canada around the time Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced the Canada-Germany Clean Hydrogen Alliance in August 2022 — was to produce green hydrogen using renewable energy in Canada, and convert it to green ammonia for shipping to Germany.
But there still seems to be some confusion over what the ammonia will be used for on the other side of the Atlantic.
The ‘inaccurate claim’ that wasn’t
In an email to the Examiner on Nov. 9, EverWind director of public affairs Adam Langer wrote:
We would also like to clarify an inaccurate claim in your reporting that EverWind’s ammonia production would be turned back into hydrogen at [sic] Europe. Page 1 of our Environmental Assessment states that the purpose of the Project is to support the global demand for agricultural fertilizer products … We are unclear how you reached the conclusion that the ammonia would be turned back into hydrogen and wanted to clarify, as this has lead [sic] to several misleading statements about the efficiency and competitiveness of our project.
We clarified with EverWind that no such “inaccurate claim” or “conclusion” was ever made in any Examiner reporting on EverWind’s project.
Rather, in this article, we quote Paul Martin speaking about the inefficiency of and energy lost in the production of hydrogen and ammonia. Martin speaks only hypothetically about how that inefficiency would increase even more if the ammonia were made back into hydrogen in Germany. This is what the article states:
If the ammonia were converted back to hydrogen and used as a fuel in a fuel cell or to burn in a gas powerplant in Germany, Martin explains that the energy loss would be five-fold because the hydrogen would produce only 20% of the energy used in Nova Scotia to produce it.
However, it is perplexing that EverWind was so concerned by a claim — which the Examiner didn’t make — that the ammonia would be converted back to hydrogen in Germany, which Langer said led to “misleading statements about the efficiency and competitiveness of our project.”
EverWind says one thing, German companies another
The Examiner contacted both E.On and Uniper in Germany and asked if it was possible that they or their customers would convert the green ammonia purchased from EverWind back into hydrogen.
E.On spokesperson Marie Teresa Jaeschke replied, “Yes, indeed, I can confirm that.”
“We are preparing for both hydrogen and ammonia applications,” Jaeschke wrote. “Our primary focus is green hydrogen, but our end customers recognize the need for derivates such as ammonia especially in the market ramp-up.”
Uniper spokesperson Charlotte Rockenbauer replied, “Yes, this is possible and particularly once large-scale ammonia cracking becomes available.” She added that the main uses for green hydrogen in Europe are “in sectors such as steel production, transport and chemicals.”
The Examiner asked Martin if he thought it ecologically or economically smart to use Nova Scotia wind power to produce hydrogen, convert it to ammonia, ship it to Europe, and then convert it back to hydrogen.
No, it makes no sense to me to make hydrogen in Nova Scotia, make that into ammonia, ship it to Germany and then break it back apart again into nitrogen and hydrogen. Too many steps, each with losses, means that the amount of energy this will liberate in Germany is minimal and the resulting energy cost will be very high. If Germany wants to reduce its GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions, the obvious thing to do here would be to use that ammonia to replace fertilizer made from natural gas. That it isn’t planning to do so is a clear indication that the thinking around this matter is not solid.
The Examiner then asked EverWind why it states in its Environmental Assessment registration document that the purpose of the project is to support the global demand for agricultural fertilizer products when this is not what Uniper and E.On say. We also asked why EverWind is confident that the green ammonia they export to Europe will not be converted back to hydrogen.
Adam Langer’s reply:
There are over 200 million tonnes of grey ammonia [made using fossil fuels] produced every year today. The production of one tonne of grey ammonia emits approximately two tonnes of CO2 [carbon dioxide]. Every tonne of green ammonia that EverWind produces will directly offset those emissions.
So, not really a reply to the questions.
At the Colchester Council meeting on Nov. 14, a councillor read a quote he said came from the Halifax Examiner, which he later conceded did not, and apologized.
However, Trent Vichie responded to the quote saying, “the fact is wrong.” Assuming it came from the Examiner, Vichie then complained to council that, “We’ve responded to that particular journalist like 200 or 300 times.”
That figure is a wild exaggeration, of course.
But — and here’s a thought for EverWind and for all PR and Comms people everywhere — the easiest and quickest way to get a journalist to stop asking and repeating so many questions is quite simple: provide clear and direct answers to each question that journalists ask the first time they ask it.
So the Examiner is still wondering why EverWind says the ammonia it produces — with precious wind energy from Nova Scotia — and plans to export to Europe will be used for fertilizer, when the German companies that plan to import it say otherwise.
Perhaps such questions will be part of the “due diligence” that Export Development Canada will do before inking the cheque to EverWind for $125 million.