In this two-part series, the Halifax Examiner takes another deep dive into the rapidly evolving story of “green hydrogen and ammonia” projects in Nova Scotia, what their proponents are saying, what their critics are saying, what the hydrogen hype is all about, and whether it is a genuine effort to tackle the climate crisis. In the first article, we look at the most recent developments in EverWind Fuels’ plans to develop renewable energy projects to fuel the production of green hydrogen and ammonia in the province.
(Update: At 5pm on August 8, 10 hours after this article was published, EverWind informed the the Halifax Examiner that it had postponed the two open houses scheduled for this week. EverWind said the open house for the Bear Lake Power Project will be held 5-8 pm on August 22, 2023, and not August 9, as it previously announced. The open house for the Kmtnuk Wind Power Project will not be held August 10, but instead will be 5-8 pm on August 23, 2023. The locations remain the same as reported below.)
This week, EverWind Fuels will host public information sessions about two large wind farms it is proposing in Nova Scotia, moving ahead quickly with its ever-shifting plans to find green energy to power its proposed “green hydrogen and ammonia” project in Point Tupper on the Canso Strait.
Two much, much larger ones are also in the works — another in Colchester County and one in the Municipality of the District of Guysborough that EverWind says will be the largest wind farm in the Western Hemisphere.
And all this to produce renewable energy to produce green hydrogen to convert to green ammonia, nearly all of which will be shipped to Europe.
Two wind farm projects
The EverWinds website now says the first open house will be held 5-8pm on August 9 in the South West Hants Fire Station on Highway 14. There it will present the 17-turbine, 89-megawatt (MW) Bear Lake wind farm it is proposing near the intersection of the municipalities of West Hants, Chester and Halifax.
The second will be held 5-8pm on August 10 in Earltown, Colchester County, for the 98-megawatt Kmtnuk wind farm with “up to 20 turbines” proposed for the area.The Kmtnuk site is close to the existing 22-turbine, 50.6-megawatt Nuttby Mountain wind farm owned by Nova Scotia Power.
As of publication time, neither wind farm project had been submitted to Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change for an environmental assessment. However, in a June presentation EverWind said it expected to have environmental approval for those two wind projects by November 2023.
EverWind’s evolving plans
“Green” hydrogen is produced using 100% renewable energy sources. EverWind describes it as the “swiss army knife of decarbonisation” because it “enables efficient, versatile, and long-term storage of renewable energy.”
Hydrogen is extremely difficult and expensive to transport. EverWind plans to convert nearly all it produces into “green ammonia” using renewable energy, and ship that to Germany, where it can be used in “agriculture, refrigeration, water purification, and the production of chemicals.”
If they are not produced using 100% renewable energy, hydrogen and ammonia cannot qualify as “green.”
In an interview in August 2022, EverWind’s Ken Summers told the Halifax Examiner / The Energy Mix that the project would be “powered off the grid” in the “immediate term and also for quite a while.” He noted that environmental assessments for wind projects are a much longer process, so the project would not be powered initially by wind farms.
Since then, EverWind’s plans have been evolving.
In December 2022, when the Examiner was working on a follow-up article about the environmental assessment of EverWind’s proposed hydrogen and ammonia plant, the company mentioned for the first time a power purchase agreement with Nova Scotia Power for new wind farms.
In her December 13, 2022 email, EverWind vice president corporate affairs Lynn Hammond told the Examiner, “Power for EverWind’s initial phase will be coming from newly built wind farms connected to the grid and specifically allocated to the Project through a Power Purchase Agreement.”
Hammond did not say where the wind farms would be.
We now know the exact locations of two of them, which will be presented in the open houses this week, and the general location of two subsequent and far larger ones slated for Colchester County and the Municipality of the District of Guysborough.
EverWind’s latest contradictory numbers
EverWind’s website now says its Point Tupper plant will produce about 240,000 tonnes of green ammonia starting in its first phase in 2025, then about 1.5 million tonnes a year by 2026, in a second phase.
This is not quite what EverWind’s Lynn Hammond told the Halifax Examiner just a month ago. In an email in July, Hammond wrote that in its second phase the company would produce about 800,000 tonnes of ammonia per year, and 200,000 tonnes per year or 550 tonnes per day in phase one.
A month before that, a June 2023 EverWind “project update” presentation refers to a maximum daily production of 750 tonnes of green ammonia in phase one, which would mean more than 270,000 tonnes per year.
The presentation was obtained by German journalist Karin Finkenzeller, who shared it with the Halifax Examiner. Finkenzeller has reported on EverWind for Germany’s largest weekly business magazine, WirtschaftsWoche.
EverWind made the presentation to German companies E.ON and Uniper, which in 2022 signed memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with EverWind for the “offtake” of up to one million tonnes of green ammonia a year.
In the presentation, EverWind notes that, “Provincial and Federal governments are supportive of EverWind as Canada’s most developed project.” It also states that Nova Scotia’s Minister of Natural Resources and Renewables can “direct NSP [Nova Scotia Power] to enter into PPAs [power purchase agreements] with renewable generators.”
The presentation lists three wind farms for phase one — Windy Ridge, Nuttby Ridge, and Bear Lake. It indicates that all three should be up and running by 2025.
EverWind’s presentation identifies the seller of the Nuttby Ridge and Bear Lake wind projects as Nova Scotia Power, and the seller of the Windy Ridge project as Renewable Energy Systems (RES) Canada.
In July, EverWind announced publicly that it was purchasing those three new wind farm projects — changing the name of Nuttby Ridge to Kmtnuk — saying that they would produce about 530 megawatts to power the first phase of the company’s hydrogen and ammonia project.
EverWind is developing the wind farms together with Membertou First Nation company, Wind Strength, and RES.
A third wind farm to dwarf all others in NS
So far no open house has been announced for the Windy Ridge wind farm, which will be EverWind’s second big project in Colchester County. Windy Ridge will be far larger than the first two projects.
The project website says it will have 66 turbines producing 340 megawatts of power, but does not show the exact location.
That’s nearly twice the size of the largest existing wind farm in Nova Scotia, the 34-turbine, 102-megawatt South Canoe facility in Lunenburg County.
On its website, EverWind says that in addition to the wind needed to power its first phase, it intends to put up “Atlantic Canada’s largest solar farm” with a capacity of 300 megawatts, and to develop battery storage. In its June presentation, EverWind said the solar facility would be “up to 350 megwatts” on “EverWind controlled land.”
EverWind also said in its June presentation that it had “approval-in-principle” with Nova Scotia Power for power purchase agreements that would involve selling the power generated at the wind facilities to Nova Scotia Power (“up to 650 MW”), and then Nova Scotia Power selling electricity to EverWind’s hydrogen and ammonia plant in Point Tupper.
Nova Scotia Power‘s vague response
Asked about the “approval in principle” for power purchase agreements with EverWind, and whether EverWind’s project would help or harm Nova Scotia Power’s efforts to reach the legislated goal of producing 80% of its electricity with renewables by 2030, Nova Scotia Power spokesperson Jacqueline Foster replied:
We continue to work closely with hydrogen developers to understand their needs and look at what options might be available to support them. We understand hydrogen developers anticipate building or procuring much of their own new renewable energy as part of their project development. We would anticipate Everwind will need new renewable generation facilities to supply energy to its facility …
New renewable generation will be needed to meet the needs of the hydrogen projects and the developers have work underway to meet their requirements. The Atlantic Loop would support the development of the hydrogen industry in Nova Scotia…
Provincial legislation requires NS Power to achieve 80% renewable energy by 2030, and federal policy requires moving off coal in the same timeframe. That is about 6 ½ years away. It’s a huge transition. We have said all along, there isn’t one solution.
What’s in it for Nova Scotia?
EverWind’s Lynn Hammond tells the Examiner that, “As the project develops, we plan to provide green hydrogen into the Nova Scotia market to help the province decarbonize, we expect that 10% of the volume will be placed into the Nova Scotia market and hopefully more over time.”
“We have MOUs in place with potential customers in Nova Scotia,” she writes in an email.
The only potential customer that EverWind has publicly named is Maritime Launch Services, the company behind Canso spaceport project, with which EverWind says it has signed a “letter of intent.” As the Examiner reported here, security filings show Maritime Launch had no source of operating cash flow as of December 2022, by which time it had incurred a “net comprehensive loss” of nearly $7.5 million.
Hammond paints this glowing picture of EverWind’s project:
In the wintertime the renewable sources supporting our project will be in excess of our needs and will be available to “spill” into the grid to reduce carbon fuel sources. By optimizing with Nova Scotia Power, our project can contribute meaningfully to the renewable energy supply at times of high electricity usage, particularly in winter months, and we are evaluating the potential benefit that could be provided by our second project phase. Our site with road, rail and water access provides the ability to distribute green hydrogen into Nova Scotia. By building our project in phases allows us to play a meaningful role to support the decarbonisation of Nova Scotia and globally.
In the second article of this series, we’ll come back to some of EverWind’s claims about its project, and to the realities of hydrogen use — be it “green” hydrogen produced with renewable energy, or “blue” hydrogen produced using natural gas with carbon capture and storage, or “grey” hydrogen produced using natural gas without carbon capture, or “black” hydrogen produced using coal.
Exporting NS wind resources to Germany
Although Nova Scotia Power avoided answering if EverWind would help it meet its renewable energy targets, EverWind claims that one of the “social benefits” of its project is that it “supports 80% Renewable Electricity Standard in Nova Scotia by 2030.”
Another of its benefits, of course, will be to make money for EverWind, and its CEO and founder Trent Vichie.
Vichie, an Australian national resident in the United States, co-founded the private equity firm Stonepeak Infrastructure, and is a former partner at another private equity firm, Blackstone.
The federal government lobby registry shows EverWind Fuels is a subsidiary of three of Vichie’s companies that share a New York address — EverWind Fuels Holdings LLC, EverWind Fuels LLC, and Toronto Diamond Laredo.
But apart from what’s in it for Vichie and Everwind, the fact remains that the main purpose of all this new green energy produced by turbines on Nova Scotian land, using what EverWind calls the province’s “world class wind resource,” is to produce green ammonia, nearly all of which is to be sold to E.ON and Uniper in Germany.
Or, as an E.ON executive put it when his company signed the MOU with EverWind in 2022, this means German companies are bringing “the energy of Canadian wind to Germany by ship.”
E.ON has told the Examiner it has not yet signed an actual contract with EverWind and that negotiations are confidential. We are still waiting for a reply from Uniper.
‘Largest wind farm in the Western Hemisphere’
As the Examiner reported previously, in 2026, when EverWind starts producing 800,000 tonnes of ammonia a year (according to Hammond) or 1 million tonnes (according to this press release), or 1.5 million tonnes according to the EverWind website, it will need vastly more renewable energy than those three new wind farms can produce.
Writing in AllNovaScotia.com in February this year, Larry Hughes, founding fellow at the MacEachen Institute for Public Policy and Governance and professor of electrical and computer engineering at Dalhousie University, calculated that it would take about 11,000 gigawatt hours (GWh) of energy for EverWind to produce the million tonnes of ammonia it plans to sell to Uniper and E.ON by 2026.
“This is as much electricity as Nova Scotia Power produced in 2021,” Hughes wrote.
Apparently EverWind sees no problem producing the vast amount of renewable energy it will need by 2026.
In addition to the three wind farms it has planned to build in the next 16 months to power phase one of its project, including the Windy Ridge project that will be by far the largest in Nova Scotia, and have them up and running in the next 16 months, the company also plans to build an even more massive onshore wind farm — “the largest in the Western Hemisphere” — in 28 months.
In December 2022, EverWind announced that it had entered into an MOU with the provincial government for obtaining a lease on Crown land, “predominantly in the Municipality of the District of Guysborough.”
A February 2023 press release states that EverWind is “exclusively applying for leases on 137,000 acres [55,442 hectares] of Crown land” for a two-gigawatt onshore wind farm to supply the second phase of its “green hydrogen production facility by 2026.”
This, EverWind says, will enable the company to “reach 1 million tonnes of annual green ammonia production capacity by 2026.”
Hughes calculates that the two-gigawatt wind farm would require about 330 six-megawatt (MW) turbines.
In an email to the Examiner, Hughes writes that if the turbines operated at 40% capacity (average power output divided by their maximum power capability), they would produce about 7,000 GWh a year, enough to produce about 700,000 tonnes of ammonia (assuming, as he notes EverWind does, that one tonne of ammonia requires 10 MWh).
And of course, this mega wind facility in eastern Nova Scotia would have to be up and running by 2026 if it is to provide renewable energy for hydrogen and ammonia production in EverWind’s phase two.
That’s less than two and a half years from now.
The Examiner asked a wind developer in Nova Scotia how long it typically takes to get a wind farm located and then studied, approved, constructed, operating and hooked up to the grid. The developer, who asked not to be quoted by name, says it typically takes between five and eight years, and in some cases, can take up to 12 years.
A spokesperson for the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables tells the Examiner that no Crown leases have been granted to EverWind, or its partners, Wind Strength and Renewable Energy Systems (RES) Canada.
NS government all in on hydrogen
In July, Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change (NSECC) released its second annual progress report on the Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act and Nova Scotia’s Climate Change Plan.
The report indicated that the province is going all in on the hydrogen rush. It stated that the province would be releasing “a green hydrogen action plan” in 2023.
In the report, NSECC minister Timothy Halman boasted about the two green hydrogen facilities “underway” in Nova Scotia, saying they “will help create clean energy to benefit people here in our province and set Nova Scotia up to be a global leader in the export of green hydrogen to help other countries meet their clean energy needs.”
Halman was referring to the EverWind project in Point Tupper, and a second one that Bear Head Energy has proposed nearby.
As the Examiner reported here, Bear Head is owned by Buckeye Partners, headquarters Houston, Texas. Buckeye is “one of the largest independent liquid petroleum products pipeline operators in the U.S.”
Bear Head Energy says its “green hydrogen and ammonia” project will be constructed in multiple phases “driven by the availability of renewable power.” At “full build-out,” the Bear Head facility will be “capable of producing 2 million tonnes” of green ammonia a year. The ammonia will be shipped “to markets outside the region.”
The Examiner previously sent questions to Bear Head about where exactly it would be getting its energy to produce hydrogen and ammonia, but received no reply.
This means we have no idea yet where Bear Head intends to source its renewable energy, and its website offers no clues, saying only the project site is, “In proximity to abundant wind, tidal, and hydro power, as well as industrial water reservoirs.”
What we do know is that EverWind plans to put up giant wind farms in Nova Scotia, including one in Guysborough County that would be about eight times larger than the massive one it is planning for Windy Ridge in Colchester County, using the province’s land, forested areas, and yes, wind resources, to produce green electricity so it can make green ammonia for a country an ocean away.
Not surprisingly, not everyone thinks it’s a great idea to produce green ammonia in Nova Scotia for export.
The project ‘seems ridiculous’
Julia Levin is associate director national climate, with Environmental Defence Canada.
In an interview, she says she is skeptical of the hydrogen hype, and of EverWind’s claims that hydrogen is the “Swiss army knife” for decarbonisation. She echoes the views of prominent clean energy analyst Michael Liebreich.
In his keynote address at the 2022 World Hydrogen Congress, Liebreich said that the view that hydrogen is a “silver bullet” or a “Swiss army knife” capable of decarbonizing everything is “dangerous,” and likely to lead to a hydrogen bubble. Liebreich told his audience that in theory you can use a Swiss army knife for all kinds of things, but in reality, it is not the best tool for most of them. He quipped that the only really good use for his Swiss army knife is to open bottles of wine when he’s camping.
In an article on Liebreich Associates’ website, Liebreich writes:
The problem is, just like a Swiss Army Knife, you won’t use hydrogen for everything you could theoretically do with it. Clean hydrogen will have to win its way into the economy, use case by use case. It could do so on its merits, or it could do so because of supportive policy (including carbon prices). But it will have to do so in competition with every other clean technology that could solve the same problem. And that is where the dreams of the hydrogen economy hit reality: in almost all use cases there is a good reason why hydrogen is not currently used – because other solutions are cheaper, simpler, safer or more convenient.
For most applications for which it is being touted, Liebreich says hydrogen — be it expensive green hydrogen produced with renewables, or any of the other colours of hydrogen made using fossil fuels — is simply not competitive. Liebreich’s “clean hydrogen ladder” shows that the use of hydrogen is competitive for just a handful of heavy industrial processes.
Thus, to Levin, EverWind’s project “seems ridiculous” for Nova Scotia.
“A province that has not get gotten its grid off coal, and is building new wind power to waste most of that to create hydrogen, to waste more of that to become ammonia to ship overseas,” Levin tells the Examiner.
“If you’re shipping ammonia overseas, then we’re subsidizing fertilizer in Europe, or if you’re transitioning back from ammonia to hydrogen [in Europe], then we’re talking about less than 20% energy savings from end to end.”
In an era in which we’re trying to decarbonize in smart ways, this is not a smart way to use renewable power… I can see why people are getting excited about this technology because everyone’s talking about it. But it’s not smart for Nova Scotia. Like most of these companies, their shareholders are not in Nova Scotia. These are not big job-producing projects either. There are very few jobs really.
We need more renewable energy projects, but to what end? When Nova Scotia is still on coal, there is so much you could electrify with really high efficiency rates. Using renewable energy to produce hydrogen, which then gets converted into ammonia is a very inefficient use of renewable energy. Each step of that supply chain is complex and expensive.
“Subsidizing this process to export that ammonia, which is primarily used for fertilizer production, is not an effective use of public money,” Levin says.
But Levin is philosophical about what could come of the hydrogen hype in Nova Scotia, saying:
However, if this impractical project doesn’t work out and the economics don’t make sense, hopefully the end result will be a build-out of wind power, which can be used to transition Nova Scotia’s grid off of coal.
Tomorrow: ‘I’m not anti-hydrogen. I’m anti-bullshit’