IIn mid-September, the government of the Canadian province of Nova Scotia announced a blockbuster, 5bn-watt “green” hydrogen plant.
The plant was designed to deliver 200,000 tons of ammonia to Europe each year, without the use of fossil fuels.
By November there is no hope that green energy will be available by the time EverWind Fuels starts operating, Energy Mix and the Halifax Examiner have learned in a joint investigation in collaboration with the Guardian.
In fact, the project hailed for its ability to convert wind-generated electricity into a much-needed green product will be partially powered by coal, at least in its first years of operation.
The picture is even more difficult for the province, which faces a 2030 deadline to shut down coal plants that provide 51% of its electricity by 2019, as the rise of electric heat pumps and vehicles drive demand for electricity.
That effort, too, is a key part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government’s pledge to phase out all remaining coal-fired electricity and reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030.
Nova Scotia has five large offshore wind farms due to come on stream by 2025, but they will only account for 30% of the country’s electricity consumption – without looking at new demand, especially for the needs of the EverWind plant.
On September 20, Nova Scotia premier Tim Houston’s office said a separate set of leases would bring “5 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030 to support. [the province’s] The growing green hydrogen industry”. But this is the deadline for granting leases to wind farm developers, with actual production expected around 2038, a provincial spokesman explained later. The 5 gigawatts, he added, is a target, not a firm commitment.
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Green hydrogen is produced from fresh water through the process of electrolysis. It is often used to make ammonia, which is easy to store and transport. It only gets the “green” label if it’s made from renewable energy.
The EverWind project in Point Tupper, Nova Scotia, includes two phases, said company founder and CEO, Trent Vichie. The first is designed to start up in 2025 and convert hydrogen to 200,000 tons of green ammonia that year. That would require 200,000 gallons (757,000 liters) of water a day from nearby Landrie Lake, or 2% of the lake’s capacity, said EverWind environmental affairs consultant Ken Summers.
In the second phase, due to start in 2026, the plan is to produce 1m tonnes of raw ammonia per year for export to Europe.
In August, EverWind also signed memorandums of understanding with German energy companies Uniper and E.On, each for 500,000 tons per year of green ammonia produced at Point Tupper.
Ammonia will be shipped across the Atlantic Ocean, adding another source of carbon emissions if the ships are fueled – as they may be – with dirty oil and heavy carbon.
And it is not entirely clear that this “green” hydrogen project will have access to green energy. EverWind’s website claims it will use local wind power to produce carbon neutral fuel. But when asked where these things will come from, Vichie responded with mixed messages.
“It’s just the Nova Scotia grid”, in 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 spokeswoman Jacqueline Foster said five new wind projects will become operational in Nova Scotia by 2025. At the time, he said wind power would account for about 30% of the province’s electricity supply.
Vichie said EverWind’s supply will not come from any of those projects. Some wind developments “have not progressed”, and some providers “did not bother to apply” in the province’s latest call for proposals. “So there are ready-made projects that are yet to be built,” he said.
But even by 2030, the NSPC’s deadline to phase out coal, utilities still expect only 80% of their supply to come from renewables. By 2025, hydrogen and ammonia produced by NSPC grid power will rely on an electricity mix that includes coal and 30% wind power.
Summers said the Point Tupper project “will be taken off the grid” “immediately and for a long time”. He noted that environmental assessment of wind projects is a long process, so the project cannot be initially powered by wind farms.
The hydrogen from the EverWind plant won’t be “truly green until it’s renewable energy”, 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, he said, are Bear Head Energy, Fortescue Metals Group and Northland Power.