The three sides of the Atlantic
By KARIN FINKENZELLER
Energy without end: The wind creates fantastic conditions for surfers in Nova Scotia. Photo: Pictures Alliance
May 26, 2023 · Anyone who considers Canada's eastern province of Nova Scotia as a hydrogen supplier for Germany has probably not looked around there. But it's worth it. Not just because of a few weird birds.
On the radio they play Stan Rogers, the song about the bay that lies silent in the sunset and about the small fishing village from which the young people have left. This summer, it will be 40 years since the Canadian folk singer lent his voice to the stories of the everyday life of the people of Nova Scotia for the last time. He died in a plane crash at the age of only 33. Of course, in his honor, they will once again host a big singer-songwriter festival here on the Eastern Shore in July. So Rogers sings on the radio as the rental car rolls along Chedabucto Bay into the 400-strong village of Guysborough, and it's as if he had just written the lines yesterday: How still lies the bay, in the light western airs which blow from the crimson horizon.
Main Street leads straight past facades made of yellow, red and light blue composite material. Pharmacy, pub, bank, gift shop, in between apartment buildings, mostly white, at the long end of neatly trimmed lawns. In the parallel street no less than four churches. For Anglicans, Catholics, United Protestants, Baptists. In the pizzeria "Big G's" a few men sit in front of their after-work beer. The unfamiliar face immediately attracts attention. "Ah, from Germany!" Will the government send you to inquire about the progress of hydrogen production? Laughter. Word has got around that the Germans have an energy problem and want to solve it here with their help. Thus, the Eastern Shore was even in the main news. Doesn't happen every day. Now the provincial government is rejoicing that they will set standards with environmentally friendly energy and are at the gateway to a world market worth tens of billions of dollars. The businessman from New York who is behind all this has promised jobs. Very close to Guysborough, he wants to build a huge wind farm that will supply the electricity to produce the hydrogen. And the factory will be built where the tourists in their motorhomes cross the bridge over the strait to the island of Cape Breton and its panoramic road Cabot Trail. That's not bad.
The sea has shaped Nova Scotia's coastline for many millions of years, here the lighthouse of Peggy's Cove, west of Halifax. Photo: Pitures Alliance
On the one hand. On the other hand, they are also a little cautious in Guysborough. In Nova Scotia, many soldiers of fortune have passed by, promising the blue of the sky, but had no eye for the rugged beauty that is exposed to the Atlantic Ocean on three sides. Not for the rugged rocky coasts, where the ocean has been gnawing for ages and often tears greedily. Not for the umpteen narrow bays that were created in this way, and on the banks of which there are rarely more than a dozen houses that seem to have washed up by chance. Not for the fjords, which plunge far into the hinterland, where the dense forests swallow up any noise.
Stan Rogers sang afterwards about plundered fishing grounds and about the locals coming back with empty nets. John Stapleton also likes Rogers. The 62-year-old is sinking another spruce log into the combustion chamber of a hot tub. Later in the evening, guests could gaze at the stars from here. On Jupiter and Saturn, Orion, Rabbit and Unicorn. The Milky Way, rarely seen as clearly as over Nova Scotia. Sunk up to the nose in hot water.
Stapleton is the managing director of the "Authentic Seacoast Company" and, in the absence of his boss, also his deputy and mouthpiece. This Glynn Williams apparently doesn't think much of the world market noise in remote areas. He has set up several small businesses in Guysborough, a roastery for fair trade coffee, a distillery for rum and whiskey. He has had an empty villa from the 19th century converted into a guest house for tourists and most recently planted the municipality's former 9-hole golf course with vines. "They didn't have it with golf here anyway."
Is there a moose in the water, in Warren Lake on Cape Breton Island? Photo: Pitures Alliance
With a bit of luck, grapes for a few good white wines will thrive in the next few years. Nova Scotia is located at the same latitude as the south of France. Just in case, however, there are ten yurts scattered throughout the vineyard, and each has a hot tub. Glamping between Chardonnay and Muscat Blanc. With a view of the night sky – or Chedabucto Bay by day. Because the wines still need something, the conversation is now continued with real American rye whiskey. The one made from rye mash. Earthy, sincere, sometimes a little bitter. Just like the people here. You shouldn't be spoiled by Scotch like the alleged connoisseurs from outside, says Stapleton.
The parallel is easy to see. If large-scale projects in this area were successful, they are convinced of this in the Authentic Seacoast Company, they would be detrimental to the still young tourism on the Eastern Shore and even more so to its largely untouched nature. Entrepreneur Williams himself made a fortune in Toronto's financial district before falling in love with the area on a bike ride. And if large-scale projects fail, they would drag down the whole area with them.
I've had it all. The Germans also wanted to promote an LNG terminal in Guysborough County. Uniper, the same company that is now flirting with importing 500,000 tonnes of hydrogen per year from Nova Scotia, signed a purchase agreement for 4.8 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas just a few years ago. But the company that wanted to build the $11 billion export terminal ran out of money. This time, Uniper has its former parent company Eon in tow, which is also speculating on the delivery of 500,000 tons of hydrogen. It should be ready as early as 2026 – provided that the Germans follow up their "Memorandum of Understanding" signed in August with a contract with the Canadian company Everwind. About 600 wind turbines would be needed for this. Twice as many as have been erected in all of Nova Scotia since 2005. The necessary area would be almost the size of the Spanish holiday island of Ibiza. Or from twice Frankfurt am Main.
Overnight, it was not Orion that came up, but a delayed "Nor'easter" wind from the northeastern United States. The most American of all birds, the bald eagle, therefore makes itself scarce at Chedabucto Bay in the morning, as do the gannets, which often dive through the surface of the water in dozens at the same time in a frenzied dive to dive for herring. You will also look in vain for dolphins and seals near the shore. Some other time.
In Neil's Harbour near Cape Breton, only a few hundred people live, most of them from lobster fishing. Photo: Pitures Alliance
But the surfers are already active in front of the beaches of Lawrencetown. Even in winter, when temperatures are around freezing, the first people squeeze into their suits in the morning hours to take advantage of offshore winds and waves up to 3.50 meters high. For the hotspot on the Eastern Shore, experts even ignore the Californian surf circus - and spectators like to forget the time over the spectacle that is offered to them here.
Paul Peic is often here. Surfing and kitesurfing as well as diving, skydiving and a few other extreme sports are his thing. Even as an entrepreneur, he could use wind. But the energy or storage medium obtained from it could be faster in Germany than in his "Nalu Retreat". Since last winter, he has been running the luxury resort at the northern end of the 19-kilometre-long Porter's Lake with his partner and a couple of friends. Like a huge crescent, it protrudes from the Atlantic Ocean far into the hinterland. Near the ocean, the lake water is salty. With every meter of distance, the salinity decreases, but the depth increases. In some places it goes down up to 30 meters. It looks magical when the fog rises over the water in the morning, and the lake lies dark and mysterious between the forests.
For the promise to be able to expect distance from the hustle and bustle of the big city in this seemingly complete seclusion, but not to have to do without any equipment and amenities familiar from everyday life there, guests pay between 300 and 450 dollars for a night on a hill next to the lake. A maximum of two people are allowed in the geodesic domes and "spa voices" are expressly desired. The owners market the retreat as a "healing retreat and sensory experience" surrounded by nature.
Nature takes center stage, as it also heals, as the operators of Nalu Retreat at the northern end of Porter's Lake are convinced. Photo: Nalu Retreat
However, the domes are connected to the public power grid. And this still contains a good part of the energy from coal. Most recently, 33 percent, as the electricity company Nova Scotia Power lets it be known. The same amount comes from fossil sources such as natural gas, oil or petroleum coke. By the end of 2030, the coal phase-out is to succeed. In order for the "Nalu Retreat" and other recently built glamping facilities to actually become the eco-lodges they want to be today, a lot of windmills are needed. Unlike in the large neighboring province of Québec or in British Columbia and Ontario, hydropower hardly plays a role in Nova Scotia. Wouldn't it be better to use wind as a resource at home instead of betting on revenues from the export of hydrogen?
Andrew Arbuckle responds with a surprising comparison. "It could be argued that our herring should feed people better. Instead, we are attracting lobsters because their export brings in a lot more money." 40 percent of Canada's lobster exports, which brought in two billion dollars last year, come from Nova Scotia. The export of hydrogen follows the same logic. "You always have to put something in order to get something bigger, more valuable." The 36-year-old is one of the boys who left the East Coast but came back. Last year he took over his father's fishing license and his boat. Not a "kindly cape islander, old but still sound", as it says in the song by Stan Rogers, but a 40-foot-long fiberglass specimen, built in 2017, with a 500 hp diesel engine.
Before dawn, Arbuckle has sailed a good nautical mile out into the Atlantic, where the lobster traps lie on the bottom. Now, shortly before 14 p.m., he is back. For visitors from afar, unloading the boxes is always an attraction. They stop briefly at the snack bar for a lobster sandwich, the rosy meat of the animal, which is so elitist at home, pressed between two halves of a roll.
Herring attracts the lucrative lobster here on the coast, but rising water temperatures threaten this business. Photo: AP
For the fishermen on the scales, it is the moment of truth. The yield could have been, well, fatter. 100 pounds per boat, depending on the weight between 60 and 70 animals, are now the rule on the East Coast. "Water temperatures are rising. The quantities are getting smaller." Climate change, says Arbuckle, "is the biggest threat to our fisheries in the medium and long term."
Even as a child, he drove out with his father. The tradition should remain in the family, even in the region, which is characterized by fishing. For we still keep our time to the turn of the tide. But he has secured himself, with an engineering diploma from the provincial capital Halifax, and now advises operators of wind farms in his second job. Also Everwind, he then reveals. "If you involve all stakeholders, a solution can be found."
Not everyone is convinced of this at the company's public hearing. "If Nova Scotia is to phase out coal, then we have to use every available land for our own needs," says Brenna Walsh. The energy officer at the NGO Ecology Action Centre fears that a hydrogen project for the benefit of German consumers would simply "cannibalize" the supply of environmentally friendly energy at home. "Land is also limited in Nova Scotia, and a lot has already been used up."
Larry Hughes is more explicit: "We get something out of the ground, or in this case out of the wind, and then we ship it. That's the attitude we've retained from colonial times," says the professor, who researches energy and environmental issues at Dalhousie University in Halifax. If Nova Scotia really wants to produce hydrogen, then it should think one step further: get involved in the research and production of alternative fuel for aircraft. Create added value with what you have. Before Everwind signs binding contracts with foreign countries.
And over Chedabucto Bay, the sun sinks again into the evening breeze.
The Road to Nova Scotia
Journey Until October, Lufthansa, Eurowings Discover and Condor will fly directly from Frankfurt to Halifax two to three times a week. The flight time is a good 7 hours. From there, it is best to continue by rental car.
Accommodation There are numerous glamping opportunities on the Eastern Shore. New on the edge of Victoria Park is "Seek Wilderness", the pretty small town of Truro is only a few minutes away. Guests can either stay in yurts or in converted shipping containers. For 4 to 6 people, from 120 euros per night: stayatseek.com
More luxurious and for adults only is the "Nalu Retreat" on Porter's Lake. Prices between about 200 and 300 euros depending on the season: naluretreat.com
motel often sounds like a compromise. The Marmalade Motel doesn't make any. In the eight renovated rooms decorated with great attention to detail on the bay of Port Dufferin, you will want to stay much longer than one night. Prices from 90 euros: themarmalademotel.com
You can spend the night in the vineyard in Guysborough, but you don't have to. The Authentic Seacoast Company has yurts and rooms at the DeBarres Manorm guesthouse in July starting at 175 euros. Other Chocolate fans shouldn't drive past Antigonish.
There, the Syrian refugee family Haddad has successfully rebuilt their manufactory. Her story has even been made into a movie. The film is called "Peace by Chocolate" – like the chocolate, www.peacebychocolate.ca
For more information, see novascotia.com; the folk festival dedicated to Stan Rogers will take place from July 20 to 23 in Canso: www.stanfest.com
Some of the research trips for this article were supported by tour operators, hotels, airlines or tourist offices. This does not affect the content of the texts.
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