As the result of new provincial regulations and an agreement over Crown land, two companies proposing a large scale green energy project in the Strait area are moving ahead.

EverWind Fuels Company was recently granted a lease to use Crown land for a wind farm, and around the same time, the provincial government announced new regulations to encourage green energy development.

On Dec. 19, the province announced changes to two sets of regulations specific to the green hydrogen sector to ensure firms have all the information about the environmental regulations they need.

According to the province, the changes to the Environmental Assessment Regulations and Activities Designation Regulations make it clear that: large-scale projects that produce and/or store hydrogen or ammonia require a Class I environmental assessment; such facilities require operational approvals; and that several operational approvals can be bundled under one facility-level approval for hydrogen facilities.

Timothy Halman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, said transforming the energy sector is “critical” to tackling climate change and ensuring environmental health.

As the regulator, Halman said his role is to ensure that environmental protection regulations and processes are clear and easy to understand so companies can spend less time trying to figure out the rules.

Noting the need to “modernize language and remove ambiguity,” the minister said the changes clarify the environmental regulatory path for green hydrogen and minimize the administrative burden on both companies and department staff.

The department said it also created two new business relationship manager positions to help companies navigate and understand environmental regulations and processes, including inspection, compliance, and enforcement.

Then on Dec. 22, EverWind announced that they entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the province to exclusively apply for and obtain a lease for Crown land, which is predominantly located within the Municipality of the District of Guysborough, with some land in the Municipality of the County of Richmond.

EverWind CEO Trent Vichie said the MOU for onshore wind farm development is a crucial step forward for plans to develop gigawatt-scale green hydrogen and ammonia production.

Erin Lynch, environment department spokesperson, explained that a Request for Applications process was used to address multiple developers asking for the same parcels of Crown lands to develop wind farms to support their operations.

EverWind wants to develop and operate a certified green energy hydrogen and ammonia production facility in Point Tupper.

The company said the wind project will provide approximately two gigawatts of onshore wind generation capacity for its green hydrogen hub project. They said the wind farm will enable them to achieve 1 million tonnes of annual green ammonia production capacity by 2026.

Vichie thanked the province for “spearheading an expedited process for obtaining Crown land leases.”

Under the MOU, Lynch said the province remains the legal owner of the land, and the developer would have to use the land for a specified time period, subject to terms and conditions which would be negotiated at a future date.

Lynch said the agreement does not authorize the developer to use Crown lands for green hydrogen projects or anything else. They must submit new applications for any proposed access for Crown lands including a lease, easement or licence.

EverWind said it is in the process of revising its proposed wind farm development plan and will publicly share those proposed plans in the coming months.

The company said the permitting and development of the wind farm will follow all Nova Scotia Environmental Assessment Regulations – including comprehensive effects studies and analysis, as well as meaningful public, stakeholder and rights holder engagement – followed by the submission of an environmental assessment.

Guysborough Warden Vernon Pitts said EverWind started conversations with the municipality almost a year ago and “have consistently shared information about their objectives.”

As part of a “comprehensive partnership,” EverWind said it is committed to working with First Nations through consultation.

Rose Paul, CEO of Bayside Development in Paqtnkek, said the project can be significant in advancing economic reconciliation, noting “this project provides an opportunity to make the dreams of our grandparents a reality.” She said this will advance their goal of creating energy sovereignty.

Potlotek Chief Wilbert Marshall said the community is proud to be involved in the project and ensures “direct benefits” for the community.

EverWind said the project is expected to create “thousands of jobs” and attract industrial and technological know-how to the region.

Cape Breton-Canso MP Mike Kelloway said this project aligns with the federal government’s commitments to take action to fight climate change,” he said. He said the Strait area has the land, infrastructure, educational institutions, and skilled people to work with EverWind.

On Dec. 9, EverWind was the first business to register a green hydrogen project for environmental assessment in Nova Scotia, the province said, noting that pending all environmental approvals, the company is planning on starting construction in the spring.

At this point in the project, Vichie said it is important to engage with the community, First Nations partners, and government to ensure they are doing the right thing for the environment and the economy.

This progress is being made despite criticism of the project that it will be powered by Nova Scotia Power’s electrical grid in its first year of production, which will still be using coal.

Critics allege that EverWind cannot claim to be green, if it is using a fossil fuel as its main source of energy, but that has been vehemently denied by Vichie who responded that anything produced by its Point Tupper operation has to adhere to very strict international standards to be exported.

This news comes as Bear Head Energy held a series of open houses last week to discuss their plans to produce green hydrogen at the former Bear Head LNG property in Point Tupper.

The projects have recently been criticized for their reliance on Landrie Lake to fill their heavy water usage needs, despite the fact it already serves the Town of Port Hawkesbury, and could be taxed even more due to the number of people who are expected to come here to build and operate the plants.

Both Bear Head and EverWind have ambitious plans for large scale projects centred in Point Tupper, with operations in various other parts of the Strait area, and both offer tremendous economic potential for the community, but at the same time, there are questions surrounding the projects which need to be addressed to the satisfaction of the community.