large billboard emblazoned with maple leafs from Wentworth Valley that advertises the area as a 4-season tourist desination
Photo: Joan Baxter

Let’s start with a quick Nova Scotia quiz.

Question #1: What do the following three things have in common? (1) A large new wind farm proposed for Wentworth Valley, (2) an open pit gold mine at Moose River in Halifax Regional Municipality that is owned by Australia’s St Barbara Ltd and operated by its subsidiary Atlantic Mining Nova Scotia, and (3) a satellite open pit gold mine that the company has proposed for Beaver Dam, about 30 kilometres from its gaping gold-mining pit at Moose River?

Answer: Northern Pulp Nova Scotia Corporation, which stands to profit from all three of these big industrial projects.

The deep crater of the Touquoy open pit gold mine at Moose River in HRM. Photo: Simon Ryder-Burbidge
Atlantic Mining Nova Scotia’s open pit Touquoy gold mine at Moose River. Photo: Simon Ryder-Burbidge

Question #2: Why and how does the Paper Excellence company Northern Pulp, which owns the shuttered pulp mill in Pictou County (and has threatened to sue Nova Scotia for hundreds of millions of dollars in lost profits), stand to profit from gold mines in HRM, and a big wind project in Cumberland County?

Answer: Because Northern Pulp owns land where those projects are or will be operating, and is collecting rent on land it leases to the respective companies — Atlantic Mining Nova Scotia or its predecessor Atlantic Gold for the mines, and to a partnership of three private Canadian energy companies behind the proposed Higgins Mountain Wind Farm in Wentworth.

Question #3: How did the owners of the pulp mill get their hands on all this precious land in Nova Scotia?

Answer: Because Nova Scotians loaned the mill owners $75 million to buy a huge chunk of land — 475,000 acres — in the province, land that had belonged to the mill’s previous owner, Neenah Paper.

That’s the end of the quiz, but certainly isn’t the end of the story.

This is a government map from 2010 that shows the 475,000 acres in Nova Scotia that were purchased by Northern Pulp using a $75-million loan from the provincial government, including land in Wentworth Valley and in HRM where Northern Pulp is now leasing out lands it purchased with that loan..
Map showing land purchased in 2010 by Northern Pulp with $75 million loan from Nova Scotia (pink is land purchased, green is Northern Pulp Crown lease, red is land sold back to Nova Scotia at 1.7 times the price per acre that Northern Pulp paid for it).

Northern Pulp profits from land bought with a loan it is not paying back

The 30-year loan for the land was issued in 2010 by the NDP government of Darrell Dexter, and in addition to the $75 million, there was also a hidden gift of $7 million to the then-owners of Northern Pulp, two American private equity companies that would in 2011 sell the mill to Paper Excellence, owned by the Widjaja family of Indonesia.

As part of the same deal, the people of Nova Scotia immediately bought back 55,000 acres of the same land, at 1.7 times the price per acre that Northern Pulp paid for it.

The land close to the proposed Beaver Dam gold mine that belongs to Northern Pulp is already being clearcut in advance of the mine it seems. Photo by Joan Baxter
Northern Pulp land near the site of the proposed Beaver Dam mine being clearcut in advance. Photo: Joan Baxter

As the Halifax Examiner reported on November 26 this year, as of 2020 Northern Pulp still owed the people of Nova Scotia nearly $85 million from outstanding loans, of which almost $65 million is from the loan for all that land that is owned by the Northern Pulp affiliate, Northern Timber.

From the Examiner article:

The land in Beaver Dam where [Australia’s] St Barbara intends to produce hundreds of millions more dollars worth of gold for itself and its shareholders belongs to yet another large foreign corporation that should be paying lots of money to Nova Scotia — and isn’t.

And:

As Halifax Examiner readers may recall, Northern Pulp is one of seven affiliates — including Northern Timber — that filed for creditor protection in the BC Supreme Court in June 2020, despite being part of the multi-billion-dollar global corporate empire of the multi-billionaire Widjaja family. (Lots more on that case here, here, here, here, here, not to mention that the company also wants to sue the pants off Nova Scotia, as we reported here.)

According to the July 22, 2020 affidavit submitted to the BC Supreme Court by Duff Montgomerie on behalf of the province, Nova Scotia agreed to a freeze on the repayment of the loans.

Nevertheless, Northern Pulp still owns the land obtained with that unpaid loan, and Atlantic Mining NS says it is “in process of negotiation [sic] surface titles” for the use of the Northern Timber land where the Beaver Dam mine would be located.

And now it turns out that Northern Pulp also stands to do nicely for itself from the land it purchased in Wentworth Valley with that generous loan it received from the province, because it is leasing out the land on Higgins Mountain to the proponents of the proposed wind farm in Wentworth.

What is the Higgins Mountain Wind Farm?

The Higgins Mountain Wind Farm is a joint project of three private Canadian companies, Ottawa-based 3G Energy Corp, Stevens Wind Ltd, and Elemental Energy Renewables Inc. According to the project website:

3G Energy established the concept of the Higgins Mountain Wind Farm Project in 2004, and partnered with Stevens Wind Ltd, a local Nova Scotian company that owns the three wind turbines currently sited on Higgins Mountain. Elemental Energy, a Vancouver-based renewable energy developer with projects across North America, joined the partnership in 2017.

Map from the HIggins Mountain Wind Farm proponents' website showing the Northern Pulp land on which the turbines will be located in Wentworth Valley
Map from Higgins Mountain Wind Farm website showing Northern Pulp land (lime green) and wind farm project location.

During an open house on the project in Wentworth held this past Saturday, Stevens Wind representative Paul Pynn told the Halifax Examiner they have been leasing the land from Northern Pulp since 2017.

A search of Nova Scotia’s Property Online service for lands owned by the Northern Pulp affiliate Northern Timber in the area reveals there are three large parcels totaling 17,044 acres, all of which were purchased in 2010 with that loan that is not being repaid. That makes the Northern Pulp land holding in Wentworth about 3,000 acres bigger than the city of Dartmouth.

Pynn said he was unable to disclose how much they were paying Northern Pulp for the use of the land, but did say that if the project goes ahead, the Higgins Wind Farm project would continue to pay for the use of the land and have control of the plots immediately around the turbines.

At the December 4 open house on the wind farm in Wentworth, Garfield Moffatt, chair of the project’s Community Liaison Committee, said that an average yearly lease for the land for a small three-to-four megawatt turbine is about $20,000 a year for about 20 years, and that it could go up to $30,000 after that.

Moffatt calculated that Northern Pulp would be paid at least $600,000 a year — and possibly much more — for having 18 very large turbines on its land on Higgins Mountain.

Moffatt also noted that the community fund of $100,000 promised by the project pales next to what “the landowner” — Northern Pulp — will receive from the project.

The Examiner asked Pynn if the wind project owners would control what happened on the rest of the Northern Pulp land if the turbines are installed and the lease extended. He replied that except for the immediate surroundings of the turbines, control of the land would remain with Northern Pulp.

In the foreground are the large tracks of the tree harvesting machines that clearcut a patch of Northern Pulp land on Higgins Mtn in Wentworth Valley in 2017, with a view down into the valley and the ski hill across Highway 4. Photo: Joan Baxter
Above and below: Northern Pulp 2017 clearcut on its Higgins Mountain property in Wentworth Valley, across Highway 4 from the Wentworth ski hill. Photos: Joan Baxter

The Examiner emailed questions about the lease and Northern Pulp’s plans for the land in Wentworth, whether the clearcutting it began in 2017 might continue if the wind project goes ahead, to spokesperson Sean Lewis. We will update this article with answers if they are received.[1]

Headwinds for the big wind project

Pynn was one of five project representatives present at the December 4 open house in the Wentworth Rec Centre.

Three representatives of the proponents of the Higgins Mountain Wind Farm in Wentwork Valley respond to questions in the gym at the Wentworth Recreation Centre at an open house for the project on Decemebr 4. They are Elemental Energy reps Dan Eaton (right) and Maryam Baksh (left) with Paul Pynn of Stevens Energy in centre
Elemental Energy reps Dan Eaton (right) and Maryam Baksh (left) with Paul Pynn of Stevens Energy in centre. Photo: Joan Baxter

It was the second open house for the proposed wind farm in Wentworth Valley in just two months, and, like the first on October 5, it wasn’t smooth sailing for the proponents of the giant new project that would involve 18 turbines, each nearly 200 metres tall with blades 80 metres long, in the wooded hills on the east of Highway 4 that runs through the picturesque valley.

One poster at the open house said that Higgins Mountain in Wentworth had been chosen because of the “strong wind resource” and because of the “large setbacks from residences, due to the large land base of the site.”

The poster explained that the project is being developed now because the Nova Scotia government is seeking to procure “350 MW [megawatts] of renewable and low carbon electricity” and that a request for proposals will “identify the most competitive low-impact renewable energy projects” to “help the province get closer to the 80% target and support the province’s goal of achieving a 53% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and net-zero by 2050.”

The winning projects will — not surprisingly given its monopoly in the province — be “awarded Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) with Nova Scotia Power Inc. (NSPI) to supply renewable electricity for generation for their customers.”

Dozens of people showed up for Saturday’s event, which involved a short presentation and then a question-and-answer session with Pynn, Dan Eaton, and Maryam Baksh of Elemental Energy, and Shawn Duncan of Strum Consulting, which is handling the studies for the project.

No one was present from 3G Energy.

Dan Eaton told the audience that the companies had “heard” from the estimated 100 people who attended the first open house, and from the 18 feedback forms they had received. As a result, Eaton said, they had changed the location of the turbines to make them less visible from various key vantage points, such as from the top of the Wentworth ski hill.

In addition, Eaton said they had reduced the number of turbines from 27 to 18, although this may also have been because the project has reduced its size from 150 to 100 MW, which is the limit for the proposals to be submitted to the province.

Eaton said the project would reduce Nova Scotia’s carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 200,000 tonnes per year, and he argued that the increased use of solar and wind energy in the province would “hedge” on future increases in power rates because those “fuel” sources are free.

Eaton’s assertions and assurances didn’t appear to reassure the audience.

The question-and-answer session was to have lasted only 10 minutes, but attendees lined up to ask questions, and heckled project representatives who tried to keep to the time limit.

In the end, the Q-and-A lasted two and a half hours.

WIth COVID spacing, the gymnasium at the Wentworth Rec Centre was almost full with dozens attending the December 4, 2021 open house for the proposed Higgins Mtn Wind Farm in Wentworth, and as in this photo, people lined up to ask questions. PHoto: Joan Baxter
Attendees line up to ask questions at Higgins Mountain Wind Farm open house. Photo: Joan Baxter

Many of those who took the microphone to ask pointed questions or state their opposition to the project are from a group called “Protect Wentworth Valley,” which describes itself as a “committee made up of residents” of Wentworth and the surrounding communities.

Among their concerns are the potentially negative effects the wind project could have on core moose habitat, on tourism and the “tranquility” of Wentworth Valley, on noise levels, the telecommunications networks, and on visuals in the area.

Others worried about the eventual decommissioning of the wind turbines, as there are currently three non-functioning ones that were erected by two of the current project partners, 3G Energy and Stevens Wind, in 2006 in Phase I of the Higgins Mountain project.

Those turbines stopped working two years ago and their decommissioning is still a concern for people in the area, who are worried the public will have to pick up the costs.

Asked what turbines would be used for the Higgins Mountain project, and about their lifespan, Dan Eaton of Elemental Energy said that they are looking at Enercon models from Germany, with a lifespan of 25 to 30 years.

According to a poster at the event, the Higgins wind turbines:

… are “37% taller than South Canoe’s [a 34-turbine wind farm producing 102 megawatts of electricity in Lunenburg County] and 37% taller than Amherst’s [a 15-turbine wind farm near Amherst producing 32 megawatts] but produce 83% and 162% more power per turbine, respectively. This results in 2x to 3x fewer turbines being needed on Higgins Wind to make up 100 MW of capacity.

While those who spoke at the open house were clearly opposed to the project in Wentworth Valley, several said that they do support renewable energy projects.

“I am a big proponent of wind and solar farms, but in the right place,” said Jamie Davison, who says he runs a start-up clean energy company. “Isn’t there also an onus not to interrupt beautiful recreational areas, and avoid putting windmills at Keji [National Park], Peggy’s Cove, and Wentworth?” he asked.

Mixed opinions

Gregor Wilson, whose family operates the Wentworth Valley ski hill and who would like to see the whole valley turned into a year-round eco-tourism destination, is a member of the Protect Wentworth Valley committee.

Gregor Wilson of the Protect Wentworth Valley group addresses the proponents of the Higgins Mountain Wind Farm in the Wentworth Recreation Centre during the December 4, 2021 open house on the project. Photo: Joan Baxter
Gregor Wilson at open house. Photo: Joan Baxter

In an email, Wilson told the Examiner that the group aims, among other things, to “ensure that any wind turbine projects in the Wentworth Valley and area do not have a negative impact on the eco-systems, eco-tourism, and communities surrounding Wentworth Valley” and “to ensure that Nova Scotians benefit over the long-term from any wind turbine developments.” [emphasis in original]

However, not everyone in Wentworth opposes the project.

Others who were not at yesterday’s open house point out it is difficult to argue against renewable energy projects given the situation the province faces in trying to get off fossil fuels, which currently account for more than half of what is used to generate electricity, and will continue to do so until hydro power from the troubled and controversial Muskrat Falls project arrives.

One person who has been studying the Higgins Mountain Wind project — and who asked for anonymity because of their job — said this about the project:

If we are serious about caring for the environment and wanting to address climate change, the simple thing is that we have to rapidly and deeply reduce our emissions. In Nova Scotia, the biggest opportunities for that are in the electricity generation sector, combined with widespread electrification (e.g. transportation and space and water heating). It is encouraging that the provincial government has committed to a renewable energy target of 80% by 2030 and ending coal fire electricity generation by 2030 – that is huge.

However, what that means is that we need to not only replace coal and other fossil fuel electricity generation capacity, but we need to increase our overall capacity (to manage intermittency and to support increase demand from widespread electrification).

What that means for each and every one of us in Nova Scotia – including in Wentworth valley – is doing our part and encouraging projects such as this that will increase renewable generation and provide low-cost, reliable and clean electricity for decades to come.

At this point, the Higgins Mountain wind farm is very much a work in progress, and far from being a fait accompli.

Dan Eaton told the Examiner that after this weekend’s open house the next steps are to review the feedback, and to continue the environmental study work.

Then, Eaton said, they will prepare their bid for the Rate Base Procurement with the province, which is scheduled for March 2022.

Endnotes

[1] These are the questions emailed to Northern Pulp spokesperson Sean Lewis:

  1. The government of Nova Scotia has agreed that Northern Pulp (and Affiliates) repayment of nearly $85 million of outstanding loans to the province. About $65 million of that amount is from the loan to Northern Pulp in 2010 for 475,000 acres of land, which includes parcels in Wentworth Valley. It appears that Northern Pulp has been leasing a large parcel of land (approximately 17,000 acres) in Wentworth Valley to a consortium of three companies (3G Energy Corp, Stevens Wind Ltd, and Elemental Energy Renewables proposing a wind project in the area. When did Northern Pulp (Northern Timber) begin to lease this land to this partnership?
  2. Does the lease include the entire parcel of land, which I was told is about 17,000 acres? How much are the companies paying to lease this land?
  3. Does the lease give the energy companies control over that land and what happens on it, or will Northern Pulp (Northern Timber) retain control over the land? If so, will it continue to harvest the forest on that land, as it did in Wentworth Valley in 2017? [Recall that in June 2017, Northern Pulp started clearcutting on Higgins Mountain, across the valley from the Wentworth ski hill, which caused a loud outcry among residents at the time.]
  4. Some Nova Scotians are asking how Northern Pulp can be launching a very large lawsuit (100s of millions of dollars) against the province for lost profits from the hibernating pulp mill, at the same time that Northern Pulp (and Affiliates) are leasing out and profiting from land it purchased with a loan from Nova Scotia that it currently is not repaying, including this land in Wentworth Valley and also land in HRM that it is leasing to Atlantic Mining NS for its Beaver Dam and Touquoy gold mines. How would you respond to them?

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Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter is an award-winning Nova Scotian journalist and author of seven books, including "The Mill: Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest." Website: www.joanbaxter.ca;...

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