A blockbuster, five-gigawatt commitment to offshore wind, announced Tuesday by the Nova Scotia government, will be mostly devoted to producing “green” hydrogen for export, and won’t come online in time to stop a hydrogen and ammonia project in Cape Breton from relying on coal-generated electricity, The Energy Mix and Halifax Examiner have learned.
“Setting this target sends a clear signal to the world that Nova Scotia is open for business and becoming an international leader in offshore wind and green hydrogen development,” Premier Tim Houston said in a September 20 release that calls for “five gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030 to support [the province’s] budding green hydrogen industry.”
But the end of this decade is just the deadline for Nova Scotia to offer leases to wind farm developers, and the five gigawatts is a target, not a firm commitment. “The first call for bids will be in 2025 with the goal that all leases will all be awarded by 2030,” a provincial spokesperson said in an email. “It will take about eight years for each project to be developed and become operational. The amount of offshore wind they produce will depend on the outcome of the competitive bid process.”
The new offshore wind capacity won’t be used to help green the Nova Scotia grid. That makes some sense, given the province’s 2030 deadline to wean itself from coal-fired electricity. Though not so much after factoring in the rising power demand that Nova Scotia and the entire Atlantic region will see as home heat, vehicles, and other energy uses shift from fossil fuels to electricity.
But as a flyer distributed at Tuesday’s announcement said, the offshore wind farms are destined to support the province’s “burgeoning green hydrogen industry.”
So far, as The Energy Mix and Halifax Examiner reported earlier this week, there is one green hydrogen and ammonia project proposed in Nova Scotia by EverWind Fuels. It’s meant to be built at Point Tupper, on the Canso Strait in Cape Breton.
EverWind Fuels LLC, a subsidiary of Texas-based TDL Partners, describes itself as “a private developer of green hydrogen and ammonia production, storage facilities and associated transportation assets.” EverWind Fuels Company registered with the Nova Scotia Registry of Joint Stocks only in February 2022, and the Point Tupper project is its only one.
The project and the company are thus not yet a year old, and so far, news coverage of both has been largely and unquestioningly favourable, with many media articles reproduced on EverWind’s website.
EverWind makes some remarkable claims about transforming Nova Scotia into “a hydrogen hub of Eastern Canada,” and expanding the project to be “globally competitive, using local wind power sources as the green power supply for carbon-neutral fuel production.”
An EverWind news release also states that the project’s “mission supports the green energy transition and strengthens Nova Scotia’s position in reaching net zero emissions,” aiming to “reduce dependence on fossil fuels and create a sustainable energy source for Nova Scotians and the world.”
But will it?
EverWind offers few details on exactly how that could work, given that the goal seems to be to produce ammonia, primarily for export, and use a great deal of as-yet-non-existent wind energy to do so.
Efficiency, Electrification, Decarbonization First
Ralph Torrie, research director at Corporate Knights, co-authored two recent reports on how Nova Scotia can accelerate its phaseout of coal, greatly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to tackle the climate emergency, and reach net-zero by 2050. One Torrie prepared for the Ecology Action Centre in 2019, and the second was a white paper he co-authored with the province’s non-profit energy efficiency utility, EfficiencyOne, in 2021.
Both reports found that the most immediate and effective steps Nova Scotia could take on a “net-zero pathway” were in energy efficiency, electrification, and decarbonization. They also stressed the importance of a just energy transition to eliminate energy poverty in the province.
The Ecology Action Centre paper concluded that the province’s available “supply side measures include 800 MW [megawatts] of new wind generation, 430 MW of solar power, the construction of the second [grid] intertie with New Brunswick, and increased purchases of hydropower resources from Quebec and the Maritime Link market block.”
The report estimated that all its recommendations would bring Nova Scotia’s energy supply to 91% renewables by 2030, eliminate seven million tonnes per year of carbon emissions, and cost $1.6 billion a year while saving $1.4 billion, so with a net cost of about $200 million, “about half of one percent of Nova Scotia’s economic output” every year.
In an interview, Torrie said that while there may be a role for hydrogen in the future, it is important to ask whether hydrogen is a good way to use wind energy now.
He noted that hydrogen may have a role in what are called “hard-to-electrify” sectors, such as aviation and transoceanic shipping, and in industries such as steel-and cement-making.
However, for now, the end use infrastructure to support hydrogen is “just not in place,” Torrie said.
“So when I step back and look at the big picture challenges that we are facing to get fossil fuels out of our system, the priorities really have to be energy efficiency first and foremost,” according to Torrie. “Secondly, we need to stop using fossil fuels to make electricity.”
In Nova Scotia, he added, “that means moving very heavily into wind power, as it has already. Probably, there’s going to have to be a doubling again just for the province’s own needs. And even then, the imports of hydroelectricity, both from Newfoundland [Muskrat Falls in Labrador] and hopefully from Quebec, are going to be important to achieving a decarbonized grid.”
Rather than going all-in on hydrogen, Torrie continued, “it seems clear to me that the higher priority should be to use Nova Scotia wind to make affordable electricity for Nova Scotians. And it’s going to be a very tight passage for Nova Scotia to get to a carbon-free system.”
“So the idea of what presumably would be very, very large wind farms to make ammonia to support an offshore, unsustainable agricultural sector somewhere, just doesn’t fit in with any sort of coherent strategy for addressing the climate crisis,” Torrie said.
Hydrogen for Export
The main use of ammonia is as nitrogen fertilizer used widely in industrial agriculture, and the EverWind website touts ammonia as “clean fertilizer to feed the world.” EverWind adds that ammonia “can be burned in an engine or used in a fuel cell to produce electricity,” but obviously, the company will not be deciding what its European buyers would be using it for.
But those deals are rapidly taking shape.
In late August, a smiling Premier Tim Houston was photographed, together with EverWind Fuels CEO Trent Vichie, Membertou First Nation Chief and CEO Terrance Paul, and other dignitaries, at the signing of a memorandum of understanding between EverWind and Uniper. The international energy company has since been nationalized by the government of Germany in response to the energy crunch brought on by Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The memorandum states that the two companies intend to negotiate an “offtake” agreement for Uniper to eventually buy 500,000 tonnes of “green ammonia” per year from the Point Tupper plant. EverWind signed a second memorandum of understanding the same day with another European energy giant, E.On, for another 500,000 tonnes.
“EverWind’s project supports our provincial goals of decarbonization and green energy leadership,” Houston commented at the time.
“We are excited about the opportunities that green hydrogen and green ammonia projects provide for the province, including new clean energy jobs, supporting Nova Scotia’s carbon emissions reduction targets, and establishing Nova Scotia as a global leader in the production of green hydrogen for domestic and export markets,” the premier added.
It is clear from the EverWind website and its recent agreements with Uniper and E.On that its current plan is to produce it for export. But even that might not be such a sure a bet.
The Hydrogen ‘Wild Card’
Torrie pointed to a report by the Canadian Climate Institute which looks at various options for decarbonization, including hydrogen. The report separates “safe bets” from “wild cards,” with safe bets being options ready to scale up now to reduce emissions. Wild cards, on the other hand, still face technological or cost barriers and are unlikely to make much of a contribution until the 2030s.
“Hydrogen is in the wild card column in this report, for 2030 and for 2050,” Torrie noted. “This analysis is for Canada, and other countries might see a larger or nearer-term role for hydrogen, but it is going to take some time, time that we don’t have.”
Once again, this is looking at the role of hydrogen in Canada. The destination for EverWind’s ammonia-from-hydrogen is Europe.
Prior to this week’s offshore wind announcement, Larry Hughes, Dalhousie University professor of electrical and computer engineering and founding fellow of the MacEachen Institute for Public Policy and Governance, said hydrogen production would put additional demand on renewables in Nova Scotia. However, he said it could help Nova Scotia “reduce some emissions” if it were not to be used to produce ammonia for export.
“For example, if the hydrogen they produce for the domestic market or for the Nova Scotia market is mixed with natural gas, that will reduce the emissions from natural gas,” Hughes said. “And also, if Nova Scotia Power used hydrogen with their natural gas, that would reduce some of their emissions. But I cannot see it directly reducing emissions from coal.”
Some decarbonization advocates are also cautious about mixing hydrogen with existing gas supplies, concerned that a relatively small percentage of clean fuel in the mix would end up greenwashing a high-emitting fossil fuel.
Paul Martin, a chemical engineer and member of the Hydrogen Science Coalition, believes “the whole world” is suffering from what he calls a “hydrogen hyperbole epidemic,” with its epicentre in Europe and the UK.
The marketing messages are that the green hydrogen projects will be “private projects” that will be “funded on the basis of their merit,” but “we all know that is not the case, unless a whole bunch of miracles happen in a row,” said Martin. “By the way, those are not miracles from on high. They are miracles that have to be funded. Miracles that have to be dragged into existence by the expenditure of tens of billions of dollars of largely public money.”
He cited other parts of the world that have double the capacity factor for wind energy in Nova Scotia, and can monetize their “incredible resources” by using them to produce green ammonia, and even green steel. So “those places in the world… are going to eat the lunch of everybody else that’s trying to do it,” he said.
Vichie said Nova Scotia’s “competitive advantage” for green hydrogen and ammonia production “is the wind resource.” Martin disagreed, maintaining that if there was an advantage, it was “that perhaps we have credulous governments that might want to part with large sums of money.”
At least through 2030, Ralph Torrie said the province should be use wind energy to support the coal phaseout.
“The priority in Nova Scotia ought to be to marshal its renewable resources to make to make affordable carbon-free electricity,” he told The Mix. “That’s really got to be the number one priority, not only in Nova Scotia, but in other parts of Canada where we’re still using fossil fuels to make electricity.”
This updated story is the second half of a two-part series, produced jointly by The Energy Mix and Halifax Examiner.