I n mid-September, the government of the Canadian province of Nova Scotia announced a blockbuster, 5bn-watt “green” hydrogen plant.
The plant was meant to deliver 200,000 tonnes of ammonia to Europe each year, without the use of fossil fuels.
Heading into November there is no prospect green power will be available by the time the EverWind Fuels facility begins operations, the Energy Mix and Halifax Examiner have learned in a joint investigation in partnership with the Guardian.
In fact, the project touted for its potential to convert wind-generated electricity into a badly-needed green product will be powered partly by coal, at least in its first years of operation.
The picture is further complicated in a province facing a 2030 deadline to shut down the coal plants that supplied 51% of its electricity in 2019, even as the rise of electric heat pumps and vehicles drives up demand for power.
That effort, in turn, is an essential part of prime inister Justin Trudeau’s government’s signature pledge to phase out all remaining coal-fired electricity and cut the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030.
Nova Scotia has five large onshore wind farms due to start up by 2025, but they’ll account for only 30% of its electricity use – without factoring in new demand, much less the needs of the EverWind plant.
In a 20 September release, Nova Scotia premier Tim Houston’s office said a separate set of leases would deliver “5 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030 to support [the province’s] budding green hydrogen industry”. But that’s just the deadline for offering leases to wind farm developers, with actual production expected around 2038, a provincial spokesperson later clarified. The5 gigawatts, she added, is a target, not a firm commitment.
Read more: Find the full two-part series here and here.
Green hydrogen is produced from fresh water by a process of electrolysis. It’s often used to make ammonia, which is easier to store and transport. It only earns the “green” label if it’s made from renewable electricity.
The EverWind project in Point Tupper, Nova Scotia, involves two phases, said company founder and CEO, Trent Vichie. The first is meant to start in 2025 and convert hydrogen to 200,000 tonnes of green ammonia that year. That will require 200,000 gallons (757,000 litres) of water a day from nearby Landrie Lake, or 2% of the lake’s capacity, said EverWind environmental affairs advisor Ken Summers.
In phase two, which should start in 2026, the plan is to produce 1m tonnes of green ammonia a year for export to Europe.
In August, EverWind also signed memoranda of understanding with German energy companies Uniper and E.On, each for 500,000 tonnes a year of the green ammonia produced in Point Tupper.
The ammonia will be shipped across the Atlantic Ocean, adding another source of carbon emissions if the ships are fueled – as they likely will be – with highly polluting and carbon-intensive heavy fuel oil.
And it isn’t entirely clear how soon this “green” hydrogen project will have access to green power. The EverWind website claims it will use local wind power supply for carbon neutral fuel production. But asked where those supplies 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 is still heavily dependent on coal.
NSPC spokesperson Jacqueline Foster said five new wind projects will go into operation in Nova Scotia by 2025. At that point, she said wind energy will account for about 30% of the province’s electricity supply.
Vichie said EverWind’s supply would not come from any of those projects. Other wind developments “didn’t make the cut”, and some suppliers “didn’t bother to bid” on the province’s recent call for proposals. “So there are projects that are ready that aren’t being built,” he said.
But even by 2030, NSPC’s deadline to eliminate coal, the utility still expects only 80% of its supply to come from renewables. In 2025, hydrogen and ammonia produced with NSPC grid power would rely on an electricity mix that includes coal and 30% wind energy.
Summers said the Point Tupper operation will be “powered off the grid” in the “immediate term and for quite a while”. He noted that environmental assessments for wind projects are a long process, so the project would not be powered initially by wind farms.
The hydrogen from the EverWind plant won’t be “really 100% green until it’s all renewable power”, he added.
According to a provincial government spokesperson, the EverWind project is just one of four green hydrogen developers interested in export projects in Nova Scotia. The other three, she said, are Bear Head Energy, Fortescue Metals Group and Northland Power.