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EXCLUSIVE: Nova Scotia Start-Up Touts ‘Green’ Hydrogen Plant Powered by Coal

A green hydrogen/ammonia facility planned in Point Tupper, Nova Scotia is being touted as a blessing for the province’s climate goals, even though it will initially be powered by a coal-fired grid—with all the ammonia slated for export overseas.

Nova Scotia is going to become a “clean, green energy superpower,” said the province’s environment minister, Tim Halman, at a media conference held in August to decry Ottawa’s imposition of carbon pricing in Nova Scotia. One of the ways the province would get there, he said, was “developing green hydrogen.”

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Together with five new wind farms, green hydrogen would help the province reduce greenhouse gases and “preserve our planet,” Halman said.

Asked how green hydrogen would help Nova Scotia’s climate plan, Halman said that hydrogen is “one component” of it, adding, “I am very proud of those green hydrogen projects.”

There is currently only one green hydrogen project proposed for Nova Scotia. EverWind Fuels is planning a “green hydrogen production facility” in Point Tupper, on the Cape Breton side of the Canso Strait.

The project involves two phases, said Trent Vichie, New York-based CEO and founder of EverWind. The first will start in 2025 and produce hydrogen that will be converted to 200,000 tonnes of green ammonia that year.

In phase two, which should start in 2026, the plan is to produce a million tonnes of green ammonia per year, all destined for export to Europe.

Green hydrogen is produced from fresh water by a process of electrolysis. It is often used to make ammonia, which is easier to store and transport.

In phase one, the project will use 200,000 gallons (757,000 litres) of water a day from nearby Lake Landrie, or 2% of the lake’s capacity, Ken Summers, Environmental Affairs Advisor for Everwind, said in a phone interview.

The Colours of Hydrogen

Hydrogen is assigned colours based on how carbon-intensive its production is and how these relate to climate protection.

Summers said the hydrogen from the EverWind plant won’t be “really 100% green until it’s all renewable power.”

“Grey hydrogen,” for example, is the opposite of green hydrogen: it’s produced using natural gas or coal, with carbon dioxide released directly into the atmosphere. “Blue” hydrogen is produced using natural gas, but carbon emissions are meant to be stored or processed using carbon capture and storage technologies. However, blue hydrogen may not be an improvement over grey hydrogen because of methane leaks.

Hydrogen is an energy carrier that “can be used to store, move, and deliver energy produced from other sources.” It must first be manufactured from a primary energy source.

According to a 2021 International Energy Agency (IEA) report on how the world could achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, the combined share of low‐carbon hydrogen and hydrogen‐based fuels in total energy use worldwide would be 13% in 2050, while hydrogen and ammonia should contribute 2% of global electricity generation.

It is widely recognized that hydrogen will have a role in our future energy mix. But the jury is still out on whether all the recent hype about green hydrogen is warranted, or if, as electric vehicle columnist James Morris argued in Forbes, it is a “cult.”

In August, EverWind signed memoranda of understanding with two German energy companies—Uniper and E.On— each of which would potentially purchase 500,000 tonnes a year of the green ammonia produced in Point Tupper. 

The ammonia will be shipped across the Atlantic Ocean, adding an as-yet-untallied source of carbon emissions if the ships are fuelled—as they likely will be—with highly polluting and carbon-intensive heavy fuel oil.

EverWind acquired a 7.8 million-barrel storage terminal at the site in Point Tupper from Texas-based NuStar Energy for $60 million in May this year.The terminal is supposed to be in “advanced stages of development” as a green hydrogen and ammonia production and export facility, EverWind said in a release. But Ken Summers said the company will be submitting its facility conversion proposal for environmental assessment to Nova Scotia this month.

Devil in the Confusing Details

It isn’t entirely clear how soon this “green” hydrogen project will have access to green power.

The project will be “powered off the grid” in the “immediate term and for quite a while,” Summers said. He noted that environmental assessments for wind projects are a much longer process, so the project would not be powered initially by wind farms.

The EverWind website states: “Our aim is to transform the province into a hydrogen hub of Eastern Canada and kick start a new green economy in the region by harnessing the power of the wind and other abundant renewable resources. In its second phase, the expanded project will be globally competitive, using local wind power sources as the green power supply for carbon-neutral fuel production.”

Asked where the wind power and “other abundant renewable resources” would come from, Vichie answered in mixed messages.

“Just the Nova Scotia grid,” for the first phase, he said. That grid is owned by Nova Scotia Power (NSPC), which the province privatized in 1992, and that has since given rise to Emera, a multinational energy company with $34 billion in assets in Canada, the United States, and the Caribbean.

Later in the interview, Vichie told The Energy Mix that EverWind would be adding wind power to the existing NSPC grid for phase one, specifying that it would be “touching the Nova Scotia grid” and then going to the EverWind facility.

So it would be “misleading” to say EverWind would be “drawing from the grid” he added, as it would be “using the transmission lines to access renewables coming online.”

“There will be “new wind coming onto the system by 2025 that will be built for the plant,” Vichie said. He did not reply when asked where, exactly, the new wind power would be coming from.

He did specify that it would not be from any of the five large new wind projects that were announced for the province last month. Vichie said there were other wind projects “that didn’t make the cut” or other firms that “didn’t bother to bid” on the province’s request for proposals for the five new wind farms.

“So there are projects that are ready that aren’t being built,” Vichie said.

Unanswered Questions

NSPC spokesperson Jacqueline Foster said the five new wind projects will become operational by 2025. At that point, she said wind energy will account for about 30% of the electricity supply on the provincial grid.

But even by 2030, the year NSPC is to have eliminated coal from its energy mix, it still expects only 80% of its supply to come from renewables.

NSPC is also upping its use of biomass from boilers at Port Hawkesbury and Brooklyn in southern Nova Scotia, burning trees to produce electricity, which critics say is not carbon neutral, and have called a “travesty.”

And even with more renewables coming on stream, NSPC is likely to continue relying on its four coal-fired plants for some years to come.

So the hydrogen and ammonia produced with NSPC grid power in 2025 would be relying on an electricity mix that includes coal and 30% wind energy.

Unless EverWind is able to get permitting for and develop its own large wind projects by 2025, which would provide 100% of the electricity for the project, how, then, can the hydrogen and ammonia produced in phase one be called “green”?

 “It’ll be green power because the power sources that we’ll be taking are 100% green,” Vichie said. “We’re actually working through a process to actually sort of certify orders. We build a new wind farm, it touches the grid, which has coal and everything else, that goes through our plant.”

“And it’s a really important point,” Vichie said. “If I build a new wind farm, it touches the grid, are there any more carbon dioxide emissions? No.”

He did not specify where EverWind plans to build a wind farm for the first phase.

Vichie also said that all the wind energy—for phases one and two—would be from onshore turbines. At some point, if other companies like Shell or BP develop offshore wind projects, EverWind’s facility could be a market for that electricity, he added.

“Further phases of the facility will be powered by offshore wind, which enables the production of over 10 million tonnes per annum of green ammonia and will be serviced by EverWind’s existing marine infrastructure,” an EverWind release states.

Where Will the Power Come From?

This brings us to the question of just how much electricity it will take to produce all that hydrogen and ammonia, which appears to be mostly slated for export.

For phase two, Vichie said the plant will depend entirely on wind energy, mostly from new projects across the Canso Strait, in Guysborough County on mainland Nova Scotia.

He said EverWind will need about 300 wind turbines for phase two, the same number of commercial wind turbines currently generating electricity for the NSPC grid.

Vichie said his company would not build wind farms where they are not wanted, for example along “the Cabot Trail, the Cabot Links golf course” in Inverness County. “That’s a beautiful part of Nova Scotia that has an amazing growing economic area.”

He contrasted this with Guysborough County on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore, where EverWind is looking to locate its wind projects.

“Guysborough County is round about two million square kilometres,” Vichie said. “You’ve got 3,000 homes in that two million square kilometre range. We’re talking about extremely low population density.” (This is not correct. Guysborough County is actually 4,000 square kilometres; the whole province of Nova Scotia is just 55,284. There are 4,897 private dwellings in the county, and 3,559 are occupied full time.)

Port Hawkesbury Paper has also planned a 130-MW wind farm for Guysborough County.

In recent years, there has been no shortage of corporations targeting Guysborough County for large industrial projects—from Maritime Launch Services’ proposed spaceport at Canso, to Pieridae Energy’s liquefied natural gas plant at Goldboro, to five open pit gold mines. This prompted Barbara Markovits of the Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association to dub the province’s Eastern Shore a “sacrifice zone.”

Guysborough County is also important habitat for several endangered species, including the mainland moose.

A 2019 Mi’kmaw Ecological Study done in response to a proposed gold mine at Cochrane Hill in Guysborough County pointed out that much of the region, known in the Mi’kmaw language as Esikikewa’kik, “is still in a relatively undeveloped state and contains significant areas of intact ecosystems in areas that have so far escaped the accelerated clearcutting activities of the past decade or so. It is, and has been since time immemorial, an important resource area for the Mi’kmaw of Nova Scotia.”

Asked about the risks of wildlife habitat fragmentation that wind projects could cause, Vichie said EverWind is working closely with First Nations and other local communities, and being “thoughtful” about where the wind farms would be placed.

In August, EverWind, calling itself a “renewable energy leader,” signed a memorandum of understanding with two Mi’kmaw corporations in Nova Scotia—Membertou Development Corporation and Paq’tnkek’s Bayside Development Corporation. The MoU states they are “supportive” of the project and are “aligned on clean energy.”

But the development of massive wind energy projects in Guysborough County is all for phase two.

There also remains the question of how much electricity will be needed for the project’s first phase in 2025.

Big Electricity Needs

Trent Vichie said it would take 250 megawatts, or “around 2 gigawatt hours (GWh),” to produce the 200,000 tonnes of ammonia in phase one. Vichie didn’t provide the formula he used to calculate the energy requirement, although he was asked.

His figures differ from the numbers provided by Dalhousie University professor of electrical and computer engineering Larry Hughes, a founding fellow of the MacEachen Institute for Public Policy and Governance.

To produce 200,000 tonnes of ammonia requires about 35,200 tonnes of hydrogen, Hughes said, citing conversion factors from the NEL Hydrogen website. It takes around 46.3 kilowatt hours to get one kilogram of hydrogen, so for 35,200 tonnes, it would take around 1,630 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity for the hydrogen, he added.

That would mean a production facility with a capacity of 274 megawatts operating continuously throughout the year, Hughes said.

However, since wind varies throughout the year, wind turbines only produce a fraction of the electricity they would have produced had the wind blown continuously. This is referred to as their “capacity factor”.

In the United States, the capacity factors of onshore wind turbines range from 0.26 to 0.52, meaning they generate electricity for one-quarter to half of the hours available in a year. So it would take far more installed capacity than 250 or even 274 MW to hit Vichie’s ammonia production target.

“The annual energy demand would be about 2,400 GWh to produce the ammonia,” Hughes said, “slightly more than 20% of NSPC’s annual production of 11,000 GWh.”

“The total energy required to produce both the hydrogen and the ammonia would be about 4,000 GWh,” he added.

So “we are confronted with the age-old question— where will the energy come from?” he said. “Four thousand gigawatt hours is about 40% of NSPC’s total annual production.”

NSPC should have more than this volume of green energy in 2025, but the utility’s other customers will need it as well, Hughes said.

“If EverWind had about 500 three-megawatt wind turbines running with an annual capacity factor of 30%, they could get the 4,000 GWh they need,” he said. “This would be independent of NSPC, although access to NSPC’s grid would probably be needed.”

But he pointed out that is just the electricity EverWind would need to produce 200,000 tonnes ammonia in the first phase. During that time, it seems the company would be getting electricity from the grid.

For phase two, the company has plans to produce at least a million tonnes of ammonia for export.

“One million tonnes of ammonia requires 12 million MWh [MWh] or 12,000 GWh for the year. Total hydrogen is 176,000 tonnes, requiring 8,149 GWh. The combined total is over 20,000 GWh per year,” Hughes said.

Nova Scotia’s total electrical demand is between 10,000 and 11,000 GWh per year, he noted. “The question is, again, where will the energy come from—in this case, for both the hydrogen and the ammonia, whether they produce 200,000 or 1,000,000 tonnes?”

EverWind needs to explain both, Hughes said.

Asked about the pressure this could put on Nova Scotia’s own electricity needs, at a time when the province is hard-pressed to reach its own deadlines to eliminate coal from the mix by 2030 and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, Vichie replied that EverWind has told NSPC the hydrogen plant won’t need to be running 100% of the time. It could avoid stressing the system at times of peak need in the winter.

Asked if EverWind had been in discussions with Nova Scotia Power, spokesperson Jacqueline Foster said, “We are committed to providing customers with energy that meets their requirements and to working with hydrogen producers and regulatory stakeholders to understand what considerations may be required in designing tariffs to appropriately reflect considerations related to their potential service.”

This indicates that despite Vichie’s claims that EverWind would somehow have its own source of wind energy for phase one, the project does plan to use the NSPC grid in 2025.

Black Hydrogen, Not Green

And if that is the case, then how “green” will the hydrogen and ammonia it produces really be?

In 2020, Nova Scotia’s electricity grid emitted 670 grams of carbon (equivalent) per kilowatt hour (kWh), six times the national average.

It takes 50 kWh to produce one kilogram of hydrogen, said chemical engineer Paul Martin, a founding member of the Hydrogen Science Coalition. So if that kilo of hydrogen were being produced on the Nova Scotia grid in 2020, it would produce 33.5 kilograms of carbon dioxide.

“That’s 3.3 times as much as you would get if you just built a steam methane reformer and made hydrogen the normal way [with natural gas],” said Martin.

Although NSPC is expected to emit less carbon as more wind and hydro are added to the province’s electricity mix by 2025, its grid will still be a long way from being coal- and carbon-free just four years from now, when phase one is expected to be operational.

“As the project is based on using grid electricity, then it looks to me to be a pilot project,” Martin said.

And “it would be a pilot project that would not make green hydrogen,” He added. “It would make it very black hydrogen due to Nova Scotia’s grid’s very high carbon intensity.”

This story is the first half of a two-part series, produced jointly by The Energy Mix and Halifax Examiner.

6 Comments (Open | Close)

6 Comments To "EXCLUSIVE: Nova Scotia Start-Up Touts ‘Green’ Hydrogen Plant Powered by Coal"

#1 Comment By Mario Caffera On September 21, 2022 @ 12:15 PM

This kind of fuel (Hydrogen produced by coal/oil/gas) must be forbidden to export. Just to be used in the producer’s country only (and with the proper environmental risk and climate change “charge”).
The same has to be done with fracking derivatives. We have to criminalize the exports of that environmentally abusive fuels.

#2 Comment By Ken Summers On September 22, 2022 @ 8:26 AM

See my own comment to the article. But at the moment it is only an allegation that this will be hydrogen/ammonia produced by burning coal.

How green is the ammonia that will be produced before Everwind has its own renewable power? That is a very good question that neither I or Trent Vichie were asked. And as noted in the comment below I did not make that statement on this subject which Joan Baxter attributes to me.

#3 Comment By JoanJoan On September 23, 2022 @ 9:20 AM

This question – where the energy would come from for phase 1 and 2 – was asked repeatedly of both Ken Summers and Trent Vichie, and I received conflicting answers. As reported in the article.

#4 Comment By Ken Summers On September 22, 2022 @ 8:21 AM

Ken Summers says

September 22, 2022 at 9:08 am

I submitted this comment where the same article ran in the Examnier

Joan Baxter’s work has been important enough to me that I decided to pay a full Examiner subscription rate despite being unemployed and having a very low family income. I have put in many hours work as Joan’s source for her excellent articles on Goldboro LNG, while only occasionally quoted as activist involved in fighting that project.

My name never appears in Joan’s goldmine articles. But we discuss regularly her research, and about the companies involved. It was Joan who tipped me off that historical gold mine wastes was an issue in the approvals for the Goldboro LNG plant. From that I became a citizen researcher in historical gold mine wastes, and that work figures into a current provincial court action. Using that background, I am one of the authors of an extensive Ecology Action Centre submission on one of the gold mines.

Joan works incredibly hard at the research for her articles, and I am intimately acquainted with how she does it. I now work for Everwind, and we discussed that well before she decided to write about the project. When Energy Mix asked her to do a piece, I ‘officially’ became a source. So I know these articles were exceptionally long in the coming. She said it is the hardest thing she has ever done. I would suggest that while her earlier project targets were not easy- none of them had or has a leg to stand on when it comes to defending their environmental ‘credentials’. So, of course Everwind was going to be more difficult to go after.

I did not make the statement Joan Baxter attributes to me near the opening. It’s not substantively important. But what I allegedly said makes an effective framing for the article. I have the interview transcript for that if anyone is interested.

The thesis Joan Baxter works with- including all of the interpretations through the series of articles- depends on data about how much renewable electricity Everwind will require to produce green hydrogen, and how many wind turbines that will require. The calculations she uses eventually become the basis for the absolutely unsubstantiated inference that the project is never going to work without heaps of government money.

For those core calculations she uses sources that are not expert in either the production of green hydrogen, or in wind turbine capabilities. Joan Baxter says that Trent Vichie refused to supply her with how he comes up with Everwind’s figures on how much renewable electricity will be required.

I was interviewed by Joan Baxter first with those questions. I just told her straight up that I’m not qualified to answer those questions. (I have tried. I can follow the data, but I am not conversant.) I told friends the interview was brutal. At the time, I said that is fair game.

When Joan put the same questions to Trent Vichie, its not an environment that is conducive to delivering a complex explanation. Leaving aside who is responsible for good data not being in the article, we deserve a chance to present the figures that go into building this project. I will get those from Trent Vichie, and express in concise bullet points the same issues addressed in the data Joan has used.

I expect the courtesy and goodwill of being able to do that in a following comment.

#5 Comment By Mitchell Beer On September 22, 2022 @ 11:39 AM

Thanks for this, Ken. We repeatedly asked you both how green the ammonia would be before you could procure your own renewable power. “I asked that over and over again,” Baxter writes. “And they kept giving me contradictory answers about where the power would come from.”

We’re republishing (and we agree with) this response from our co-publishing partner for the series, Halifax Examiner Publisher Tim Bosquet. The original includes a full transcript of the exchange.

Readers can decide for themselves how to parse the various claims made in the articles and Summers’ comments to them. But I take very seriously the charge that Joan Baxter misquoted Summers, so I asked Baxter to supply me with the recorded audio of her interview with Summers.

In his comment, Summers says: “I did not make the statement Joan Baxter attributes to me near the opening. It’s not substantively important. But what I allegedly said makes an effective framing for the article. I have the interview transcript for that if anyone is interested.”

The quote in question is this: “Summers said for the hydrogen and ammonia to be ‘green,’ it has to be produced using ‘100% renewable power.’”

Here’s the audio of that portion of the interview…
[The specific phrasing is] an error, and we’ve corrected it in the text. But that small error in transcription does not materially change the meaning of the quote, nor, as Summers says, the context it provides for the rest of the article.

We stand by the article, and Baxter’s work.

#6 Comment By Ken Summers On September 22, 2022 @ 9:10 AM

Joan Baxter:

In August, EverWind, calling itself a “renewable energy leader,” signed a memorandum of understanding with two Mi’kmaw corporations in Nova Scotia — Membertou Development Corporation and Paq’tnkek’s Bayside Development Corporation. The MoU states the corporations are “supportive” of the project and are “aligned on clean energy.”

But the development of massive wind energy projects in Guysborough County is all for phase two.

Rose Paul of Paq’tnkek’s Bayside Development Corporation cannot comment here because she is not a subscriber. But in the MOU Joan refers to and links, Rose explicitly expresses support for what Joan calls “massive wind energy projects in Guysborough County.”

From that MOU:

“Paq’tnkek is the closest Mi’kmaq community to the proposed wind development for EverWind’s green hydrogen project, and by partnering as owners it allows us to meet our goals of securing our economic independence and energy sovereignty[CM1] ,” said Rose Paul, CEO of Bayside Development in Paq’tnkek.

She explained how the project shows the power of bringing together Mi’kmaq traditional knowledge with the world’s leading companies like EverWind. “As Mi’kmaw, we understand the importance of helping lead the way in the green hydrogen industry given its importance to the environment. Our involvement aligns with our role as the traditional stewards of the land, deliver impactful employment within our community, and further develop our people as business leaders of the future. Since the inception of the project, EverWind has included the Mi’kmaq in development, ensuring its alignment with both two-eyed seeing approaches, and the project economics. We support EverWind’s approach. True partnerships like this are embodiment of what is meant by economic reconciliation,” says Paul.

When Joan interviewed me she asked about this very issue, that we both know well, about the Eastern Shore being treated as a “sacrifice zone.” Is this not more of the same she asked? I replied that these are not open pit gold mines, and I very emphatically and unequivocally added that “if Everwind does not have the support of the hosting communities, then there will be no wind farms there.” I made clear this is NOT pro form “consent” from the municipal government- regardless of what the residents think.

Considering the column inches Joan Baxter devotes to that issue, you might think it would be relevant to report that commitment.