OTTAWA — The federal government is stepping out of the regulatory process for some offshore wind power on Canada’s east coast in an effort to reduce red tape and speed up development.
Federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson announced Wednesday that Ottawa had reached an agreement with Newfoundland and Labrador allowing the province to regulate offshore renewables in its inland bays as if they were on land. The memorandum of understanding between the two governments will allow the blustery province to determine the pace and scale of wind development within these bays, and to reap their economic benefits, Wilkinson said.
"With world-class wind resources and considerable geographic advantages, Newfoundland and Labrador has the potential to build a thriving offshore wind sector that will be well positioned to support both the growing demand for electricity and a globally competitive hydrogen export industry," he told reporters in Ottawa.
Newfoundland and Labrador is an oil-producing province, with four offshore oil installations east of St. John's. The two governments jointly manage the province's offshore oil sector through a federal-provincial regulatory board.
As the world pulls away from fossil fuels, the province is working to build a renewable energy sector, and it has already developed regulations for onshore wind projects. According to Wednesday's agreement, any wind projects proposed for 16 bays punctuating Newfoundland's vast coastline will be evaluated and managed under the existing onshore rules.
That means anyone looking to set up wind turbines in those waters won't have to wait for the province to create a regulatory structure, Wilkinson said. It also means the federal government won't be involved in the approval process, which can slow down development.
Wilkinson pointed to proposals for wind-powered hydrogen plants the province has already received, and noted that companies seeing wind opportunities in inland bays arising from those projects now have a clear pathway forward to production.
Larry Hughes, an engineering professor at Dalhousie University, said Quebec may be a “ready customer” for Newfoundland and Labrador’s offshore wind energy, though he cautioned that offshore wind is expensive to develop.
"It's a grand idea. But there are hurdles when it comes down to it," Hughes said in an interview.
Quebec is looking to get more electricity from renewable sources and is already in negotiations with Newfoundland and Labrador as a decades-old energy agreement between the two provinces is set to expire in 2041.
The largest union representing fish harvesters in the province expressed dismay at Wednesday's announcement. Massive offshore wind farms could harm commercial species like capelin, snow crab and cod, the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union said in a news release.
“Words like ‘expedite’ are cause for concern to fish harvesters who rely on the long-term health and sustainability of our marine environment," Greg Pretty, the union's president, said in the release.
Furey said the province will have a "healthy and respectful consultation process" with fishers and Indigenous leaders.
"Today is the first step in recognizing that these areas are ours .... We will own them, we will regulate them and we will reap the economic benefits," he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2023.
— By Sarah Smellie in St. John's, N.L.
The Canadian Press