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N.L. mayor, councillors flew on jet owned by billionaire with local energy interests

The Canadian Press
N.L. mayor, councillors flew on jet owned by billionaire with local energy interests

STEPHENVILLE, N.L. — A Newfoundland mayor says he and three council members did nothing wrong when they flew home from Germany aboard a private jet owned by a billionaire vying to build a major energy project in their town.

Tom Rose, mayor of the western Newfoundland town of Stephenville, said the flight offered by John Risley in September saved the town of around 7,000 people approximately $5,000. Risley is a director of World Energy GH2, a company awaiting provincial government approval for a US$12-billion wind and hydrogen project in the Stephenville region.

Rose said that with large, wealthy companies, meeting on a golf course or a private jet is “the way business is done.”

“Time is very, very critical to top senior executives such as John Risley,” he added.

As first reported by CBC News, Rose said he and three colleagues were in Hamburg, Germany, in September for a conference on green energy. He said during the conference, they signed a memorandum of understanding with GH2 officials to “engage in development” on their project. Risley offered to fly the Stephenville group partway home – from Hamburg to Halifax – on his private jet, Rose said.

The offer, Rose explained, provided a good opportunity for the councillors to have private, in-depth discussions with GH2 leaders about their proposed project. Rose said he and his colleagues had flight insurance, adding they accepted Risley’s offer and got a refund for their plane tickets.

World Energy GH2 is looking to capitalize on western Newfoundland’s steady winds and Germany’s hunger to find alternative energy sources to Russian natural gas. The first phase of the company’s proposal calls for up to 164 onshore wind turbines to power a hydrogen production facility in Stephenville. Long-term plans call for tripling the project’s size.

In August, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz led a business delegation to Stephenville and signed a five-page “declaration of intent” with Canada to kick-start a transatlantic supply chain for hydrogen, with the first deliveries expected by 2025. The hydrogen project in Stephenville is awaiting environmental approval from the Newfoundland and Labrador government. It will also have to clear a nomination and bid process for Crown lands.

Rose said he has “100 per cent” confidence the project will go ahead. Construction on an access road, and the erection of wind measurement towers, has already begun in the area, he added.

The project has been controversial, however.

The news of the Stephenville councillors’ trip on Risley’s jet came just over a month after website reported Premier Andrew Furey vacationed at Risley’s luxury fishing lodge in July 2021, nine months before his government lifted a long-standing moratorium on wind development.

Furey said the wind energy file is being handled by another minister; therefore, he said, there is an “ethical wall” between him and the company’s interests. The premier has also said repeatedly that he paid for the trip himself.

Rose said he “absolutely” understands some are uncomfortable with him and his colleagues accepting the ride on Risley’s private jet. But he said most people that he is connected with are happy his small community was able to save $5,000.

The Stephenville mayor said he respects the opinions of people who have concerns about the project, but he said it will be beneficial for the town and Newfoundland and Labrador.

“This is a world energy crisis and a G7 country has asked Canada to step in and help,” Rose said, referring to Germany. “And our role in Stephenville, we were selected because of one major reason, and that is that we have the best wind in all of North America.”

In a statement, GH2 said the Stephenville councillors were in Hamburg to learn more about what hydrogen development could mean for their community.

“The World Energy GH2 team was there as well, and we were happy to be able to offer what were otherwise empty seats for the ride home,” said spokesperson Laura Barron.

© 2022 The Canadian Press

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