By Keith Norbury

A fabrication facility to build gravity-based structures for offshore wind power proposed for the port of Corner Brook, N.L., would “definitely increase activity at the port,” the port’s business development manager, Nora Fever, said in a recent interview. While she didn’t have any details about the size and scale of the proposed facility, Ms. Fever said the port would have to expand its infrastructure to accommodate it, which “definitely has potential to create several hundred jobs for this area.”

St. John’s based Beothuk Energy has identified Corner Brook as a feasible site for such a facility, which would be built at Brake’s Cove, just east of the existing Corner Brook dock, as part of a $1 billion initiative that also includes a demonstration wind farm project for St. George’s Bay, according to recent local news reports. Kirby Mercer, Beothuk’s CEO, told the local Rotary Club this summer that the manufacturing facility would create at least 600 jobs in the Corner Brook area alone, the city’s Western Star newspaper reported at the time.

Ms. Fever confirmed that the proposed facility would build “gravity-based structures” for offshore wind turbines. Those structures would sit on the seabed to support the turbines in offshore wind farms in the waters around Newfoundland. Handling these structures, and the materials required to build them, would necessitate expansion of the port. For example, it would require infilling of Brake’s Cove, which is to the east of the existing dock. “We would use existing infrastructure to some degree but most of the project activity would be at an expanded area of the port,” Ms. Fever said. That existing infrastructure includes a fixed-pedestal crane that the port corporation obtained new in 2008. The 53-tonne capacity machine is a multi-use crane that handles containers and the occasional shipment of breakbulk or project cargo. However, such project uses have been infrequent. The most recent consisted of large pipes for penstocks at the Deer Lake power plant about 50 kilometres away.

The port also has a ro-ro ramp, 28,000 square metres of container storage or laydown area, and a large industrial building that can be leased. Corner Brook, with a metropolitan population of about 32,000, is the largest city in western Newfoundland. It is on a narrow, well-sheltered fjord with 100 metres of water in the middle of the bay and 10 metres at dockside, Ms. Fever said. The berth extends 362 metres, long enough to accommodate the Queen Mary II when it visited. Open year-round, with occasional ice-breaker services, the port is situated at the end of Humber Arm, 35 kilometres inland from the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Corner Brook Port Corporation has only four employees at present. However, Ms. Fever said that would likely increase should the expansion project go ahead, although she didn’t have details about that. “It would depend on the setup of the project, who the partners are, and those kind of things. It’s very early stages for this,” Ms. Fever said.

Beothuk is part of a corporate partnership that includes Denmark’s Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners. According to a posting on the latter’s website, Beothuk will lead development of the 180-megawatt St. George’s Bay project “until a power purchase agreement has been obtained.” After that, Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners will lead the project to its financial close “and through the construction phase in cooperation with Beothuk Energy.’

In mid August, the provincial government said it was meeting with the project proponents “on a regular basis to discuss the potential of its wind project for Newfoundland and Labrador.” That was according to a prepared statement, attributed to Siobhan Coady, the province’s Natural Resources minister. “The project is in its early stages and we continue to discuss,” the statement added.

The mayors of Corner Brook and the nearby municipalities of Burgeo, Deer Lake, Stephenville, and Port aux Basques have also met with the joint venture proponents and port officials. The mayors issued a news release in August saying “it is essential to work with the provincial government to secure a power purchase agreement for this project to ensure the province has first-player advantage, as it is unlikely that a second fabrication facility will be constructed in Atlantic Canada,” the Western Star reported at the time.

Ms. Fever said the port is close to other potential offshore wind sites in Atlantic Canada, which she called “a big plus.” She added that the province has a lot of expertise and experience in the offshore oil and gas industry that she expects could be translated — “especially when you’re talking about gravity-based structures” — to the offshore wind sector. “And we’ve got several post secondary institutions here in Corner Brook for training and for specialized programming if necessary,” Ms. Fever said. “So certainly that positions us very well for this project.”

Glen Sullivan, co-owner of Atlantic Hydraulic and Machine Limited, attended a few information sessions on Beothuk’s proposal in recent years, and told Canadian Sailings that his company, which fabricates maritime equipment, could perform maintenance and other support work at the windmill plant. He also expects the wind facility would bring in workers from elsewhere in the province and provide spinoff benefits for hotels, restaurants, and other businesses.

“We’re a very small community,” Mr. Sullivan said. “So any new work that comes into this community would have to benefit the community. There is nowhere (else) to get any service or any suppliers or anything else.” He remains optimistic that the wind project will go ahead, although he noted that it has been planned for a few years now. “So as time goes on, I’m not sure if it’s going to happen or not,” Mr. Sullivan said.