A billionaire-owned company with ties to Premier Furey is first out of the gate in the province's wind-to-hydrogen industry. But residents on the Port au Port Peninsula—many of them Indigenous—are pushing back, saying the proposed megaproject threatens their land, water and way of life. After blocking road access to contractors doing preliminary work near the community of Mainland, land defenders found themselves on the receiving end of a court injunction. Like their Muskrat Falls predecessors, they're now caught up in litigation.

But theirs may not be the only costly battle in the province's wind rush. World Energy GH2 now has to try to mitigate the negative publicity associated with criminalizing Indigenous people. And the rest of the emerging industry is watching closely, says our guest, Alex Bill, editor with

We're also joined by University of PEI energy justice researcher Nick Mercer, who says that for the things John Risley's company has done right, it is repeating mistakes of the past and risks losing public support for the wind industry as a whole.

A special thanks to Tara Manuel for sharing excerpts of her "Heart to Heart with Little Premier" performance, available on the artist's YouTube channel. And also to Kelly Russell for sharing music from Émile Benoit's 1979 album "Émile's Dream". You can stream or purchase the album from Pigeon Inlet Productions' bandcamp page. Music "Sports FM" is courtesy Shane Ivers.

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Creators & Guests

Justin Brake
He/him. Journalist. Settler. Future ancestor. Born 338 ppm.

What is berrygrounds?

With an eye to power, host Justin Brake takes a closer look at key issues facing Newfoundland and Labrador. A brand new podcast from The Independent.

JUSTIN BRAKE: Welcome to berrygrounds. I’m Justin Brake. When I hear Port au Port, I think of Emile Benoit. And for a long time, that was about all I thought about the Port au Port Peninsula. Then, I actually went there. Across that tiny isthmus just past Kippens. And then I saw firsthand there’s no other place like it on the Island. A small peninsula, to be sure. But with so many cool things to explore.

From its pristine lagune-like pebble beaches, sea caves, fossils and ancient rock formations. To the rich history of Basques, French, Acadian and Mi’kmaw settlement. The only recognized bilingual region in the province, Port au Port is home to a cultural melange unseen anywhere else in Newfoundland or the world. Along the French Ancestor’s Route, you’ll visit communities like Sheaves Cove, Marches Point, Cape St. George, De Grau, Boswarlos, Piccadilly, Lourdes, and Black Duck Brook. With the scattered home flying an Acadian, Mi’kmaw, Newfoundland or Canadian flag. Beautiful as it is, there are a few eyesores. Vivid reminders of industry’s influence in the area. On the south shore at Lower Cove you drive right through Atlantic Minerals’ limestone quarry. And on the north shore, the abandoned Agathuna Limestone Quarry—now a barren landscape of rocks and boulders with scarce vegetation. This one, a glum, stark reminder of what happens when industry no longer needs a place or its people.

Port au Port has also seen an oil industry come and go. Wells drilled on Shoal Point more than a century ago now sit in a tidal zone, seeping oil into West Bay, where the smell of petroleum and the sight of oil sheens on the water are not uncommon. The province has said the estimated $1 million dollars it would take to remediate that old wellhead is too expensive.

Now, a new industry has its eyes on Port au Port. But not one that would leave open-pit mines or leaking oil. No. The wind and hydrogen megaproject proposed for Port au Port would create mostly short-term employment, but serve as a symbol of pride for residents willing to let the industry into their lives to produce cleaner, renewable energy and help address the climate crisis. Right? Not so fast.

Many in Port au Port are dead set against it. Or, at least against HOW the company is pushing the project forward. In January some residents in the community of Mainland blocked access to a logging road, saying the company’s preliminary work at a proposed site was contaminating their water supply. The company—World Energy GH2—denies the allegation. Then it took a page from the NALCOR playbook and pulled a trump card. The company, run by billionaire John Risley, went to the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador and asked a judge for an injunction against the land defenders. The photos of protestors World Energy GH2 submitted to the court? Those were part of an affidavit signed by a man named Matthew Sekela. Sekela is a former BC police officer who, according to his own LinkedIn page, has “planned and executed several hundred tactical operations,” and has been trained by Navy SEALS, Delta Force, Army Rangers, and various SWAT teams. A member of the Abbotsford Police in 1999, Sekela led his tactical unit in raiding a home belonging to a man thought to be in possession of marijuana and an illegal weapon. But as the cops burst into the home with their MP5 machine pistols, that’s not what they found. Instead, a dramatic scene unfolded. 14 children and 13 adults were gathered for a child’s birthday party. But that didn’t stop the cops from searching the home, handcuffing some of the kids’ parents, and shooting and killing the family dog in front of some of the children. In 2000 the BC Police Complaints Commission found Sekela guilty of two counts of discreditable conduct. But Sekela appealed to BC’s Court of Appeal and won. He now runs his own company Tactical Synergy, and has been contracted by private investigation, intelligence-gathering and surveillance firm Paladin Risk Solutions. That’s who Risley’s company hired in response to the Port au Port protests.

With on-the-ground resistance quelled indefinitely, World Energy GH2 now has an uphill public relations battle. Extractive industries’ at times iron-fist approach toward locals seldom earns companies respect, let alone social license. And with a potentially massive new industry at the province’s doorstep, what World Energy GH2 does next could have implications for how Newfoundlanders and Labradorians view the wind and hydrogen sector as a whole. So says our first guest, a St. John’s-based journalist who has been covering the emerging industry.

For years, clean energy advocates have pushed for Newfoundland and Labrador to be a world leader in wind energy. We have wind. We have space. And we have a dependency on oil — an industry whose time is up. We even already have a few small wind farms here. But both Liberal and Conservative governments have not welcomed the industry. In 2007 the PCs placed a moratorium on private onshore wind development to make way for Muskrat Falls. And that ban was only lifted last year, seven years into the Liberals’ tenure.

Then came the flurry of activity around wind and hydrogen development. That’s where we pick up the story. And to help us do that, we’re joined by Alex Bill, editor at He joins us from St. John’s. Alex, welcome to berrygrounds.

 ALEX BILL: Thanks for having me.

JUSTIN BRAKE: So much has happened in just ten months. Before we get into it, let’s make sure everyone’s brought up to date:

April 5, 2022: Industry, Energy and Technology Minister Andrew Parsons STANDS in the House of Assembly to announce an END to the moratorium on wind development.

May 13: allNewfoundlandLabrador reports that Nova Scotia billionaire John Risley and business partner Brendan Paddick are planning to build a wind-to-hydrogen megapraject on the Island’s west coast… that has SINCE been estimated to be in the $10 to $12 billion dollar range.

August 23: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, industry leaders, all Atlantic Canada premiers ALL DESCEND on Stephenville. Canada signs an agreement with Germany to export hydrogen overseas. Trudeau calls it a historic moment and says shipments could begin as early as 2025.

October 19: allNewfoundlandLabrador reports that in summer of 2021 Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey vacationed with John Risley at Risley’s luxury fishing lodge in Labrador. Risley calls questions about his relationship with the Premier “petty” and says they have nothing to hide. Furey denies discussing the megaproject with Risley during their hang at the lodge. To date, the premier has refused to table receipts for the trip and end suspicion he is in a conflict of interest. When journalists pressed him on it, Furey pushed back, implying he is the target of unfair criticism: “We need to have some respect for public figures,” he says.

December 14: The province launches a Crown Land call for bids for Wind Energy Projects.

Mid-January 2023: Local residents block an access road to a test site, saying a contractors’ work has contaminated their water supply. The company denies any role in that and says the water issues existed prior to their work in the area.

January 27: World Energy GH2 engages Paladin Risk Solutions, and the following day, January 28, Matthew Sekela arrives in the Port au Port area, according to his affidavit.

January 30 or 31: Three pieces of heavy equipment at a World Energy GH2 site are vandalized, according to RCMP.

February 1-6: Sekela and a number of other men attempt to access the worksite but are turned away by protestors, Sekela says in his affidavit. He claims that on Feb. 6 protestors attempted to detain his vehicle, so the next day he did not attempt to visit the site “due to concerns regarding safety”.

February 9: World Energy GH2 files its application for an injunction.

February 10: Justice George Murphy—the same judge who granted Nalcor its injunction against Indigenous land defenders protesting Muskrat Falls in Labrador—approves World Energy GH2’s application, compelling police to arrest the Port au Port protestors if they continue to block access.

March 3: Justice Murphy leaves World Energy GH2’s temporary injunction in place pending further hearings.

Alex, you wrote in an op-ed days after the Trudeau Germany announcement in Stephenville that very few people, including those in government and industry, have a firm handle on what was happening at that time. In what you referred to as the quote, hydrogen hoopla. Why is the case of World Energy GH two important, not just for Port to Port and Bay St. George, but for the wind and hydrogen industry as a whole in Newfoundland and Labrador?

ALEX BILL: It's important because they are so ahead of other companies in their environmental assessment, in their testing with meteorological towers, and with community engagement—for better or worse—that they're sort of setting the bar for other companies and sort of setting the tone of the conversation in the province. And other companies and the government will have to respond to that. And so even though there are dozens of companies, several of whom are proposing projects that are just as big as World Energy GH2’s, they are sort of the standard bearers right now. And I think for that reason, a lot of how the province responds to this industry will sort of be set by how their project proceeds.

JUSTIN BRAKE: The project isn't even official yet. As you mentioned, they're still going through an environmental assessment process, and they were the first outta the gate on that. What does the company still have to do specifically to get the green light? And is there anything that could conceivably stand in its way?

ALEX BILL: Yeah, that's a great question. Certainly in the environmental assessment, it's possible that there could be roadblocks or impediments. Although historically in this province that isn't the case—if, you know, everybody's behind a project, it usually gets approved. And, you know, theoretically somebody else could bid for those same Crown lands and get them instead. I think World Energy has done a lot that would discourage another company from doing that, from uncertainty over who would be able to have access to the Port of Stephenville to simply not knowing if you could really compete with what World Energy intends to spend. So it's probable that they get that Crown Land lease and, and they have their EA approved, and certainly it seems that they would be one of the companies that gets to produce first. But there are supply chain issues as well. All these companies have a lot of hiring to do and there's only so much labor in this province that has the technical skill sets to do this work. So there are a lot of things to do. They are certainly sounding, not alarm bells, but certainly making noise about how important it is to move very quickly for them, more than most of these other companies. So they certainly seem to be in a hurry.

JUSTIN BRAKE: So you mentioned some of the technical aspects of the process. There are legal hurdles to clear as well. But then there's the public relations side and there's the unresolved issue of, from what I can tell, a pretty widespread suspicion that something isn't right here. You broke the story about Premier Fury traveling to Labrador to spend time with John Risley at his luxury fishing lodge. Fury still hasn't tabled the receipts for that. And there are some people who believe—or just who can't believe that spending time together, that those two never discussed wind, the wind energy industry, or perhaps even specifically the project that (Brendan) Paddick is now behind that is up in the $10 billion or more range. People just can't believe that that never came up. What does the government have to do to get, you know, more public support or to overcome that hurdle? Or is it not really a hurdle, do you think, for a government and industry?

ALEX BILL: No, I think it's a hurdle. Certainly, I think it's problematic for everybody involved—and to ask people at the company, they might think it hurts more than it helps. The connections between Mr. Risley, his partner Mr. Paddick, and the Premier are pretty deep. Mr. Paddick is one of the premier’s best friends. Mr. Risley, he seems to have connections with that go about quite a while. His father's speaker of the Senate, George Furey was on the board of one of Mr. Furey's (he means Mr. Risley) companies in the mid 2000s. And it's not only on provincial politics, Mr. Risley and Gudie Hutchings have a relationship that goes back some time. Risley bought that luxury lodge in Labrador from Hutchings, and she has been a  supporter of this particular project, specifically. Mr. Furey has stayed away from anything quite like that. So those political connections are deep, they're very public, and the perception of that is out there. And there's no indication anybody has done anything wrong, but the perception matters and I think it impacts how the province deals with all of these projects. And one thing that they need to do, and are doing to a certain degree, is be transparent about the process. It's interesting to see how Newfoundland and Labrador has been unveiling how the wind and hydrogen industry is gonna proceed here compared to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. I have colleagues in those provinces at our sister publications, and they say the Newfoundland Labrador process is much more transparent, and are a little envious of the amount of information we have so far. So, government needs to do that because there's this other perception problem hanging over them. And so they have to be exceptionally transparent. They need to be forthcoming, with disclosure, and they're doing that in a lot of ways. The financial considerations for how this will work were a little delayed. You know, there are other things here that people are gonna wanna know about, but that issue started early, in part because of our coverage and it's something that the province is gonna have to deal with. And you couple that with World Energy being pretty aggressive about getting out of the gate early, getting testing done, and that in turn has sparked local opposition. Those protesters were there in August in Stephenville, and some of them were protesting Mr. Trudeau and the various things his government has done, or represents, just as much as they were protesting a wind and hydrogen project. And there are others who were solely concerned with what this is going to do to Port au Port and Bay St. George. And we could see that in other places in this province. So while we're dealing with this industry everywhere, the Port au Port case is really the test case right now because it is the most public, it's got the most acute opposition.

JUSTIN BRAKE: Alex, you speak with government and industry people every day. What is the mood among wind and hydrogen industry proponents right now? And also within government?

ALEX BILL: I think they're excited. Certainly, we're talking about what would be tens of billions of dollars of investment. Pretty eager offtake markets in Europe, even though most of the ways they're going to use hydrogen still haven't really been perfected yet. It would be huge for rural Newfoundland, specifically, and there are a lot of opportunities. And so there's a lot of excitement in industry and in government. There's a bit of trepidation with, you know, it is very unknown—it's an unproven industry. There are environmental concerns. While this is a green energy in terms of emissions, wind and solar and other forms of renewable energy do use a lot of land. And the land that they need to use needs to be close to roads, and close to where people can access it—and that's where we live. So, there's uncertainty, maybe a little bit of anxiety, and quite a bit of excitement.

JUSTIN BRAKE: How closely are industry folks watching the latest developments with respect to the injunction? Because World Energy GH2, when the company applied to the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador for the injunction—you know, their case is a business case. They've told the court that protestors, land defenders, continue blocking access in Mainland to this site where they need to do some testing—that the project is at risk, or that it's gonna cost the company money. At the same time, I'm sure that industry players want to see excitement among the population of Newfoundland and Labrador—for each project and for the industry as a whole. Are you getting a sense of how important this specific piece of the whole thing is to industry? What happens with this injunction and because injunctions have often swayed—turned public opinion against developers in the past? We saw it happen with Muskrat Falls, for instance.

ALEX BILL: Yeah. They're watching this very closely. Certainly, all these companies are watching what the other ones do because it's all so new. But on this particular one, they're watching it all keenly because all these other companies want to avoid having to file injunction applications against protestors themselves. It's probable that some of them will get some protestors, too. So how they deal with that is gonna be front of mind. And, you know, I've had this conversation with a few people in industry. A lot of people talk about wanting to be first to market. There's some benefit in being second to market because you see how the people ahead of you have made mistakes and what you can learn from them. And I think there's some of that, in seeing what World Energy is doing with Indigenous relations, with dealing with protestors, with testing, with its civil works in advance, with its environmental assessment process. So everybody's watching them closely.

JUSTIN BRAKE: So what does government need to do if it wants a successful and supported wind and hydrogen sector? And also, what do government and industry both need to do to get that support?

ALEX BILL: Yeah, that's a great question. You know, public engagement is spouted so often it loses meaning sometimes. But other companies are having meetings in the towns they expect to be neighboring—all the time. They're happening this week in Central Newfoundland. They're happening this week in the Placenta Bay area, which is gonna—Placenta Bay is gonna see more of these projects proposed than the West Coast is. So, there are meetings happening around there, and they're gonna need to have a lot more of those. Certainly, social media presence, direct engagement, and get your—you'll get these environmental processes started early too. Because they want to be fast to market and, you know, a perception of rushing that won't help things. As for government, you know, I think they have to keep doing what they've been doing in terms of transparency and laying out exactly what the process is going to be, what happens at each benchmark. And then March 23 being the due date for bids, you know—notifying the public of who the approved bidders are for which area, pretty soon after they notify those bidders. And then why those bidders won. That level of disclosure is gonna be important for getting people on board. You know, transparency is key.

JUSTIN BRAKE: Let's open up the berrygrounds time capsule. Alex, do you have a question or curiosity that you'd like to put in the time capsule and pull out some time down the road?

ALEX BILL: I don't know if it fits exactly what you're looking for, but I think if this industry doesn't work, it will mostly be for reasons that are beyond the control of this province or its people. It's a global industry. There are a lot of risks, and for that reason I think pass/fail might be beyond the control of Newfoundlanders. But if it isn't going to work—and we've seen this best case scenario where it could bring tens of billions of dollars into the province's coffers—there's a lot of optimism and hope here. If it's not gonna work, we really can't throw good money after bad. And we've done that before, particularly in the utility sector. So people have their hopes up. If those hopes are gonna be dashed, it's imperative that Ottawa can provide the subsidies or tax credits that it wants, but we have other problems to pay for. Here we have a Hydro corporation that's already kind of hurting from the sunk-cost fallacy. And there's a tremendous amount of risk in this industry more than with oil, which has been proven for decades when we got into it more than with hydro in some ways. So, we want to benefit from it and we must do the best to make sure that we're competitive, that we do reap benefits as a people. But if it's gonna go sideways, let's not go down with it. And let's see in 20 years if we managed to do that, if indeed it doesn't work.

JUSTIN BRAKE: Alex, thank you for your work and for being with us today. You can check out Alex's work and the rest of the team at When we come back: The energy industry in Newfoundland and Labrador, and throughout Canada, has a long history of environmental racism and of using coercive tactics to see their projects through. Energy justice isn’t something we talk about every day. But it’s the central focus of one Newfoundland researcher’s work. He joins us to share his thoughts on World Energy GH2. Stay where you’re to.

— Second Segment —

JUSTIN BRAKE: This is berrygrounds. I’m Justin Brake. World Energy GH2 put $10 million on the table for the people of Port au Port — but only if the project is approved and built. Some might call that legal bribery—a small line item for a billionaire-owned company doing business with economically deprived communities. Or, perhaps it’s a generous incentive that will greatly benefit Port au Port residents. It depends how you look at it. While many of World Energy GH2’s tactics to gain local buy-in are questionable and deserving of close scrutiny, they haven’t done everything wrong. Our next guest thinks it’s also important to acknowledge what the company has done right. Nick Mercer is an Assistant Professor in Island and Environmental Studies at the University of Prince Edward Island with deep family roots and professional experience in Newfoundland and Labrador. His research focuses on energy justice — specifically local participation in, and benefit from, energy initiatives in isolated island communities. Nick, welcome to berrygrounds. We just heard from Alex Bill that while much of the focus on the emerging wind and hydrogen industry in this province has focused on World Energy GH2 and Project Nujio'qonik, there are many other proponents not far behind. But since World Energy was first out of the gate, industry is watching closely how the company fares in getting not only its rubber stamp, but also buy-in from the people whose land, waters and lives will be impacted. The company has set up an office in Stephenville, and it's met with community members around the Port of Port and Bay St. George region. But it also got an injunction against land defenders who now could be embroiled in years of costly litigation. Nick, what do you make of the company's approach so far?

NICK MERCER: I actually think the company has done some fairly innovative things with respect to building community and establishing local trust. Um, but I see many tensions and cracks that I do believe could have been solved through proactive community oriented, energy policy making. So yeah, it's kind of from this conceptual lens of energy justice. I've definitely seen some positive mechanisms and some really challenging issues emerging as well.

JUSTIN BRAKE: Can you take us through some of them? What are some of the positive things you've seen?

NICK MERCER: Well, on the positive side of things, I mean, it's always wonderful to see a company establish a presence in a community early. I mean, ideally you want these renewable industries to be established locally to encourage collective participation. And that's really challenging when projects are led by large corporations who typically live large distances away, uh, from the constituents that they're purportedly serving. But in the case of World Energy GH2, to see them have boots on the ground, to see them have infrastructure, to see them have vehicles, to see them have an outlet for community participation, to face locals in community halls—these are all really textbook and promising measures of community engagement. Other interesting mechanisms I've seen, encouraging locals to travel to wind energy facilities in Ontario to gain intimacy and familiarity and to answer questions about projects, is a wonderful mechanism for including communities. Taking town counselors over to conferences overseas—questions around access to private jets aside—is another interesting mechanism to increase the knowledge. So on the one hand, I definitely see these proactive positive tools that this company is deploying to build community, and to undertake this large scale venture together. This is kind of what we're seeing of the positive attributes emerging from these projects—you know, which is far more than what other renewable energy developers have done in Newfoundland, in Labrador. So there really are some positive community engagement mechanisms coming out of this project. With that said, there's also some things that I am extremely concerned about. The first is kind of the initial conceptualization or conceiving of these projects. So one thing I've been taught by my mentors in Labrador, in that to truly do an ethical project in cooperation or partnership with Indigenous peoples—or even non-indigenous communities—it involves their full scale involvement from the very conception of an idea on through to the completion of a project. So in essence, if you conceive of a project on your own terms without a community, you've already failed your ethical obligations to them from the onset because they had no hand in helping to shape the project or decide on their priorities or where it would be situated. The kind of power imbalances have been entrenched from the very onset or the early stages of the project, and I certainly saw this here. Before moving to PEI to take up this job at the university, I lived in Stephenville. And there were whispers around the community for months and months and months about what was being proposed and why there were helicopters overhead and why there were large scale research vessels out in the bay. And really communities, you know, were quite frightened and taken aback from the very early stages about what was about to happen to their land, water, territory, and resources. So, you know, that was concerning to me, was, A, the conceptualization of the project. But B, the thing that I'm most concerned about is kind of the corporate-led nature of large scale renewable energy extraction In Newfoundland and Labrador. Renewable energies don't have to look like this. They don't have to be thousands of megawatts of wind and hundreds of turbines and multi-billion dollar hydroelectric initiatives to produce renewable electrons. In fact, projects can be small scale, they can be manageable, they can be aligned with the culture and ways of life of local communities. They can be owned by the communities themselves. The financial benefits can be rested with the communities. And really, what we're seeing here is the opposite approach. We're seeing a large scale corporation propose a mega project of which size, scale, and scope has never been completed before, almost anywhere in the world, definitely in Newfoundland and Labrador. And underpinning this project are still the capitalist values of extraction and scales of economy. And one thing, one really pivotal lesson, from my field of literature of energy justice is that if we build this renewable energy future with the same capitalist and extractive values of the fossil fuel era, we're gonna end up with the exact same social and economic inequities that we observe today. I'm not sure if that's what the people in rural Newfoundland and Labrador are trying to create through renewable energy technologies.

JUSTIN BRAKE: Corner Brook artist and puppeteer Tara Manuel has released three videos titled “Heart to Heart with Little Premier,” where she is in conversation with a small puppet that resembles Andrew Fury. In the most recent video, she brings Little Premier, straight to porta port residents who are protesting for preliminary work at some of World Energy's potential sites. Let's listen.

TARA MANUEL: Hi, little Premier. OMG. I am so excited that you took me off on my offer to come out here to the Port of Port Peninsula on the West Coast. Thank you so much. So—“Yeah?” Little Premier? “Yeah?” I've got a really exciting day planned for us today. “Oh?” Yeah! I've arranged for you to meet a bunch of people out here in the Port of Port Peninsula who are not in favor of the World Energy GH2 plans for taking half the Peninsula for giant turbine development. “You did?!” Yeah. Because I know that you are capable of real leadership, Little Premier. I know you realize how important it is to get out of your St. John's power bubble and meet the people whose lives will actually be impacted by this project face to face. Okay, come on, let's go. It's okay Little Premier, they don't wanna hurt you. They just disagree with you. Come on, you can do it, okay?

RESIDENT #1: Premier, I just wanna ask, you have 84% on a peninsula that don't want this project on the Port of Port. So why not move it somewhere else? We do not want the windmills here on Port au Port. “You don't?” No, we don't.

RESIDENT #2: Over 84% of the population in Porta Port and that number has risen over the past few weeks, thanks to the destruction of Mainland's water system, and to the destruction of part of the forest here in Piccadilly. So, Premier Fury, you don't have a social license to be here on the Port of Port Peninsula. GH2 is not welcome here. “It's not?” This is a big project for such a small, beautiful area, and we don't want GH2 here or any other turbine company here.

RESIDENT #3: Okay, Mr. Furey, we are here—this here’s our fifth day here protesting here in Picadilly. “Yeah.” And we are not going away. “Okay.” We don't want you or GH2. “Yeah.” And I think our peninsula is too small for 164 wind turbines.

RESIDENT #4: Hello, Mr. Fury. I'm the Local Service District for Picadilly Slant-Abraham’s Cove chairperson. “Yeah.” And my concerns here for the region is our water supply area here—that is affecting our watershed area with this new road that they put in here. And the destruction of the wooded area in the back of the resident’s households here. We have a lot of wildlife that is coming out into our residential properties—foxes, coyotes, rabbits, things that we've never seen before. And, you know, the people of the peninsula are worried that the wildlife is gonna be affected. Of course, our watersheds are being affected. Right now, you and your government has, and Crown Lands, basically green zoned so much areas here that people thought that was their properties. So, Mr. Premier, we are all taxpayers here, so I'm asking you: What are you gonna do to help us here on the Port au Port Peninsula?

TARA MANUEL: Okay, then if we're all in this together, how can we let this happen to our fellow Newfoundlanders against their will in one of the most ecologically sensitive areas of the island? “Uh, I don't know.” Well, Little Premier, if we really are in this together, then the answer has to be no. And government must work with World Energy GH2 to find alternate locations for turbines. I mean, that might cost more, but you know, the long-term health and wellbeing of the people of the Port of Port Peninsula has to be factored into this equation. I mean, do we love this place or not Little premier?! “Yeah, of course we do.” Okay, then if we love Newfoundland, we must love and support our fellow Newfoundlanders, Little Premier, and they don't want this project on the peninsula!

JUSTIN BRAKE: Nick, land defenders say there is no social license for Project Nujio’qonik. Last fall, residents from ten communities conducted a survey to gauge public support and opposition to the project. They say just over a thousand residents participated and were asked whether they support the project, are opposed to it, or are undecided. 84% were opposed, they say. In a written statement, World Energy GH2 tells berrygrounds they can't verify the validity of the polling. The company says it has been “told by community members that misinformation was being shared about the project that influenced polling results,” and that many respondents simply didn't want to argue with the people conducting the poll. Now, I should say, the surveys were done in communities on the port of Port Peninsula. Some were done in person at a single site, like a town hall, and others were door to door. The company instead points to a poll conducted last September by MQO Research. That one surveyed 473 Newfoundlanders and Laboratorians online, and by phone. 160 of the respondents were in the Western region. It's unclear how many were on the Port au Port Peninsula, but World Energy says that survey’s findings, that 80% of respondents and 82% in the Western region support onshore wind development, is a better indicator of public support for its project. Nick, what do you make of how locals have measured public support in Port au Port and how the company has responded?

NICK MERCER: I think the thing we need to establish is that there's no such thing as purely objective research. You know, even the most scientific or rigorous, repeatable research done in a lab—there's all kinds of bias introduced, going down to the people who are conducting the research and where the funding is coming from, and how the results are disseminated, and what questions are asked. So, all research is subjective and biased to a degree, and I think we're seeing that here with both of the research instruments that have been used. So undoubtedly the survey done on the Port au Port Peninsula, you know, as the company raises, there's probably some methodological bias based in there. But I would also argue that the survey done by World Energy GH2 has an enormous amount of bias, including the vast majority of the sample who don't live on the Port au Port Peninsula and who are not gonna have to live with the results of the project. So in my field of energy justice, really what we believe is that the people who can tell you most about the risks of a project are the people who have to live with the risks associated with that project. So if we think about the healthcare sector, for instance, it's the patient who is undergoing treatment, who's the best situated to tell you how the treatment is working, or what the symptoms they're experiencing are. It's not their second or their third cousin or their brother. It's the person experiencing the challenge who has the really rich lived experience and knowledge of what they're going through. So I certainly see incredible value coming out of the research done by the community organizations in the Port au Port Port Peninsula. And while we can quibble over the sample size and what sampling strategy that was used, I think the value in it is that it's people who are connected to this issue who are gonna have to live with the result of this issue, who are raising their legitimate concerns. If it's 20% of them, 80% of them, 100% of them, I think they are the best situated to tell us how this project is gonna intersect with their really sophisticated and valuable way of being on the Port au Port Peninsula.

JUSTIN BRAKE: Let’s talk about social license for a moment. Back in 2014 and 2015, junior oil companies wanted to frack for oil on the Port au Port Peninsula. Locals then organized an effective resistance and not only staved off hydraulic fracturing. But they pressured then Premier Dwight Ball to say the Liberals would not support fracking in the absence of a social license there. At a government announcement in Corner Brook last month, I asked Premier Furey if he would make the same commitment to Port au Port residents with respect to wind development. Here’s how that went:

JUSTIN BRAKE: In 2015, premier Ball said that there would be no fracking on the Port au Port Peninsula without a social license. Will you make the same commitment about wind development on the Port au Port without—would you commit to not letting it go ahead without the social license from the people who live on?

ANDREW FUREY: Oh, that's a very loaded question. And the premise is extremely—

JUSTIN BRAKE: —It’s pretty straightforward.

ANDREW FUREY: Okay, it’s straightforward? Define social license for me.

JUSTIN BRAKE: This is a widely known term. It means—

ANDREW FUREY: —So gimme a definition.

JUSTIN BRAKE: It means having an acceptance by the local population beyond the legal—

ANDREW FUREY: —Absolutely. Sure. And the community is expressing its will and we'll always be open to listening and developing in conjunction with the community. We don't develop any resources without full stakeholder engagement, and that's one that we'd be committed to.

JUSTIN BRAKE: Nick, how do you define social license, and is it as complicated as Furey says?

NICK MERCER: Yeah, social license is a really interesting and highly contested concept to me. In essence, social license really refers to the broad scale public support of a project outside of legal, formal regulatory avenues. This is having the public's support behind you in the things that you're doing. And, you know, people will argue about this concept. They'll say it's hard to define, it's hard to legislate—who do you listen to? But there's some really wonderful scholarship emerging in the field of energy justice which talks practically about how important this concept is. So, in terms of social license in my field, we'll talk broadly about participatory justice or local participation in an energy initiative, and the characteristics of that participation. And really forms of participation can vary widely, right from public manipulation on the bottom of the scale, right up to true citizen empowerment and partnership at the top of the scale where citizens truly have some agency in deciding the outcome of a project. But generally, what we've seen in scholarship in Canada is that the greater the degree of public participation in an energy initiative, the higher the likelihood of eventual support of that project, even if they disagree with it. So the lesson is, if you include communities meaningfully they'll be more likely to support it in perpetuity because they had a chance to be involved. They had a chance to be heard. They had a chance to shape the outcome. They had a chance to have risks properly mitigated. So it's really valuable to try to build social license and social support because it supports the long-term sustainability and perpetuity of these projects. The other thing that we see with discounting of social license, or poor forms of participatory justice, is threats to the long-term sustainability of industry. So if you bulldoze your way through and you dismiss public concerns, and you have your way, you might get your project done. But it's very likely that you'll threaten the long-term vitality of what it is you're trying to achieve. And my scholarship in Labrador has shown large scale hydroelectricity is a prime case study of this. So what we've seen is that associations with previous projects in Labrador significantly shape current perceptions of hydroelectricity. So folks on the coast of Labrador are highly resistant to things like Pico hydro—like a couple kilowatts of hydroelectricity—or even run of the river hydroelectricity because of their negative perceptions and understanding of the ecological, social and economic risks associated with the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project. So, a poorly butchered planning process can really affect the ability of anyone else to get anything in the future. Another really compelling example we see of this is actually in Ontario. So yes, the Green Energy Act was super successful in a rapid, large scale corporate buildout of renewable energy projects. Yet in the future, a new regional government via Doug Ford swept to power and canceled 900 signed renewable energy contracts because of opposition from the public. They didn't want to see an additional wind turbine put in the ground in Ontario because of the wretched experience they had in the initial planning process. So including people in general is a good principle for humanity, but it's also a good business principle because it can help garner public support of your project, and it can help to ensure the long-term vitality of your industry.

JUSTIN BRAKE: In an interview last year with Independent reporter Abby Cole you referenced a study that looked at how Ontario had handled wind development, compared to how Nova Scotia had done that. Can you explain what the two scenarios were and what this research found?

NICK MERCER: Yeah, certainly. So, again, really fascinating study done by Chad Walker and team originally outta Queen’s University. But Chad, my friend and colleague, is now at Dal. And what the researchers started to do was to compare the social acceptance of wind energy facilities in Ontario versus Nova Scotia. And ultimately what they found was that wind energy, social acceptance in Nova Scotia was three times higher than it was in Ontario. So something like 70% of residents were supportive of projects, versus 20 or or 30—whatever the one third is that was observed in Ontario. They also found that perceptions of negative health effects were three times lower in Nova Scotia than they were in Ontario. So largely, communities in Nova Scotia were far more supportive of wind energy development, and they perceived largely that these facilities were making significantly less impact on their health and wellbeing. So the researchers wanted to understand why this was so, and what their analysis demonstrated is that it came down to the sighting processes deployed for wind energy facilities. So in Ontario we saw a very technocratic process driven by governmental elites, scientific elites, corporate elites, via the Green Energy Act, where they essentially stripped the rights of municipalities and local communities to oppose or to be involved in the development of wind energy facilities. And this led to a massive efficient build out of corporately-owned wind turbines—thousands of them all across Ontario. At the time of the study, there wasn't a single community-owned wind turbine in the province. Versus, on the other end of the spectrum, in Nova Scotia, we saw a firm, more community oriented approach to development done via Nova Scotia's COMFIT program, or community feed and tariff program. And what this really innovative policy implemented was a couple key attributes. A: projects had to be small—you know, 10 or 15 megawatts, versus what we're seeing in Port au Port, 1,000 to 3,000 megawatts. And you know, this scale alone, community members are far more willing to live with the impacts of one or two wind turbines on their landscape, versus 167 wind turbines, you know, which disrupts their travel, which disrupts their wildlife, which disrupts their water source. The impacts of smaller initiatives are far more manageable and compatible with rural and perhaps Indigenous ways of life. But the other interesting attribute of this policy is it necessitated that renewable energy initiatives had to be wholly owned—majority equity owned—by community groups. So instead of being a passive recipient of project benefits via, you know, taxes and economic spinoffs and perhaps a royalty, the communities own 50% of the projects, so therefore they see 50% of the profits. And this helps to make sure that the lion’s share of the revenue of renewable energy initiative stays in the community, that locals have a say over the governance of projects, that they can shut it down if they want to, that they really have a strong ability to affect the outcome of proposed renewable energy initiatives. So it was these positive attributes of the Community Feed-In Tariff Program that led to wide social support, compatibility with health and wellness and positive contributions to community economic development in Nova Scotia. So the advice that I'd offer to provincial policy makers in Newfoundland and Labrador is, we have a lot to learn from this work and these previous experiences in other Canadian jurisdictions. Small initiatives work. Yes, they absolutely challenge the economies of scale that are required for large scale resource extraction. But I feel strongly that we need to be able to walk before we run. I think it would be very wise for the province to honor this lesson of small scale development, to show that these initiatives can be completed on time and on budget; that communities can learn to interact with them, that they can have ownership over them; and that it's not, you know, 3,000 megawatts of wind that's totally gonna disrupt your way of life that you have no say over. So yeah, I'd love to see perhaps a hydrogen research development and demonstration facility in Newfoundland and Labrador that builds one or two wind turbines, an electrolyzer. Let's start there before we strip away the rights of communities.

JUSTIN BRAKE: Well, I certainly share your curiosity or anticipation to see what happens. And so I'd like to invite you to put something in our virtual time capsule, a question or curiosity that you might have that we can keep in the back of our minds and pull out potentially for a future episode down the road. As this story continues to unfold, not only with World Energy GH two on the Port of Port Peninsula, but also the apparent rush here now of wind to hydrogen proponents looking to develop here in this province. What would you like to place in the time capsule for us to pull out down the road?

NICK MERCER: Yeah, I think this is a really lovely idea, Justin. I'm so excited to see what community members put in there, and what's of value to them and their territory. But for me, I'd love to toss in a loonie, ‘cause what's really important to me as an energy justice scholar is to trace where the financial benefits are. So is this like the offshore oil and gas industry in Newfoundland and Labrador, where we see record profits coming from natural resource extraction that necessitates enormous—to the tune of two and a half a billion dollars of governmental subsidies—to bring alive, while we still see, you know, historic levels of debt, high levels of unemployment. And really what this natural resource, that was supposed to be in an economic saviour—the impacts at the end of the day are questionable and certainly up for debate. So on the Port au Port Peninsula, are we gonna see wind and hydrogen benefit shareholders and benefit directors? Are we gonna see real life-changing amounts of economic resources penetrate and stay in communities? So yeah, tracing where the buck is landing will be very important to me.

JUSTIN BRAKE: Wonderful. Thank you Nick. It's been a pleasure to have you. Thanks for sharing your insight and I look forward to speaking with you down the road.

NICK MERCER: Thank you so much, Justin. It was a pleasure.

JUSTIN BRAKE: Before we go. An update on the Port au Port land defenders’ court case. On Friday several of the respondents requested an adjournment and told Justice Murphy that as “unconquered Indigenous women” they’re challenging the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction to hear World Energy GH2’s application for a permanent injunction. They’ve asked the court to transfer their case to an Indigenous tribunal. The matter has now been set over to May 4. And guess who was seated directly behind me in the courtroom? None other than Mr. Matthew Sekela himself. So I took the opportunity to ask him if he felt bad or guilty for coming here to effectively spy on Indigenous people trying to protect their water. Have a listen.

JUSTIN BRAKE: I’m reporting that they brought you in and given your history of SWAT training, tactical training, US Navy SEAL training. You know, that seems quite extreme for what’s going on here, which is as you can see local residents who are simply, from what I’ve been told, trying to protect their water supply. Given the current climate of this point of history of Indigenous reconciliation and stuff, you’ve been sent to surveil them. I’m just wondering, do you feel remorse at all for photographing—?

MATTHEW SEKELA: —I can give you the vice president of Paladin, who will talk to you.

JUSTIN BRAKE: But I mean you, personally—

MATTHEW SEKELA: —I’m not gonna have a comment.

JUSTIN BRAKE: You’re working for a billionaire—

MS: —Thank you.

JUSTIN BRAKE: Matthew Sekela also told me he couldn’t comment on the case because it’s before the courts. It’s the exact same thing powerful people in government and with World Energy GH2 are saying about a legal process initiated by Risley’s company. Listen to this clip from February 16, when Premier Furey was in Corner Brook to announce funding to train Indigenous people to enter the trades. That’s the same day I asked him about social license. But just to set the scene: this is in a conference room at the Glynmill Inn, where the premier, two cabinet ministers, Mi’kmaw leaders, and former PC cabinet minister Darin King — who now heads up Trades NL — have just wrapped up a government announcement of more than $900,000 to help Indigenous people enter the trades — in part, to help build the wind-to-hydrogen industry. I remind Furey that in less than an hour from that time, Indigenous people would be defending themselves in court against World Energy GH2’s injunction.

JUSTIN BRAKE: Congratulations on the announcement. It sounds like a wonderful initiative, and it was presented in the wider context of reconciliation. In just a few minutes, there will be people, Indigenous people, in the courthouse across the pond from here, defending themselves against an injunction that World Energy GH2 has sought from the court. These people are defending what they say are their lands against the proposed wind development there. What are you doing to ensure that we don't see a repeat of what happened with Muskrat Falls, where RCMP are compelled to come in and put Indigenous people in handcuffs because they don't like the development?

ANDREW FUREY: It certainly is not my place to interfere with any court proceeding or to direct the police in any way, shape or form. So let them rightfully exercise the appropriate avenues.

JUSTIN BRAKE: Then I walk over to World Energy GH2 director and CEO Sean Leet, who is at the announcement. I put a similar question to him.

JUSTIN BRAKE: What can you say on behalf of the company, of what's happening now? You've asked the judge to put Indigenous people in handcuffs if they don't stop what they're doing—hindering, frankly, a corporation's work over on land that they say is their land.

SEAN LEET: So this is before the courts, as you can understand. So I'm not able to comment on that. I think, um, you've been in touch—

JUSTIN BRAKE: —You put it before the courts. It wouldn't be before the courts if you didn't seek an injunction—if your company didn't seek an injunction.

SEAN LEET: But the matter’s before the courts, so I can't comment unfortunately.

JUSTIN BRAKE: I’m sharing these questions with you as a reminder that while there are many differences between Muskrat Falls and World Energy’s Project Nujio’qonik, there are also some clear similarities. Indigenous people and others in Labrador participated in the formal processes that paved the way for Muskrat Falls, like the environmental assessment process, community consultations, and so forth. But in the end, their concerns were not addressed and the project has had devastating impacts on their lives, not the least of which were the traumatic arrests and incarcerations of Inuit men and women. When land projectors, media, or others tried to ask political leadership and Nalcor about the impacts the Nalcor-initiated injunction would have on locals — the answers were the same: It’s before the courts. I can’t talk about it. Despite the fact that in recent years injunctions have become an increasingly common weapon used against Indigenous people who attempt to protect their land, waters or ways of life from unwanted industrial development. The late Indigenous rights leader Arthur Manuel famously referred to court injunctions as the “legal billy club” colonial governments use against Indigenous peoples. Manuel and others have pointed out that in many cases injunctions would never be necessary in the first place if the political and corporate processes leading up to Indigenous-led land defense actions were fair and respected Indigenous peoples’ rights, including the right to free, prior and informed consent. We’ll leave it at that for now. But The Independent will continue to follow this story closely, because we in media also have specific responsibilities in an era of supposed reconciliation. A very special thanks to Tara Manuel, whose work you can check out on her YouTube channel. And also to Kelly Russel for letting us share some music from Emile Benoit’s 1979 record “Emile’s Dream”. If you’ve been enjoying our new podcast and are listening on Apple, Spotify or Amazon, please consider giving us a five-star review. That’ll help us reach more people. And if you have the means to help us keep berryrounds going, you can click the “Support Us” button at — where you can donate directly to the show. I’m Justin Brake. We’ll see you next time.