Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Green Hydrogen

Remember when I took you on that guided tour of the new Novaporte website? (Honestly, I don’t blame you if you’ve suppressed the memory.)

Hydrogen listing, periodic tableWe spent some time pondering the claim that the adjacent Novazone logistics park will be a “green energy hub” with “planned hydrogen facilities” that will “fuel global, national, and regional transportation networks, and provide export capacity for excess regional green energy resources.”

The site illustrated this with stock photos of a hydrogen facility and a row of offshore wind turbines.

I thought of this today when I read this CBC story about a marine renewable energy conference in Halifax that focused on offshore wind turbines — and hydrogen. One of the participants, Wendy Franks of Toronto-based Northland Power, told the CBC’s Paul Withers that the opportunity presented by offshore turbines in Nova Scotia is “not the domestic market,” rather:

“If we could harvest the renewable energy and transform it into hydrogen, then the Maritimes could become an energy-exporting region,” said Franks.

Electrons generated by turbines are fed through an electrolyzer with water, which separates hydrogen and oxygen molecules. Hydrogen can be stored and converted into “green ammonia” and used as zero carbon fuel.

“We’re thinking about many different uses,” said Franks.

“It could be something where we are exporting the ammonia by ships. It could be something also where actually the ships are consuming the hydrogen and using that to decarbonise their operations.”

Although I could be wrong, I don’t think there is any connection between developers like Franks and the men behind Novaporte — Albert Barbusci and Barry Sheehy. I think Barbusci just recognized “hydrogen” as a hot topic, because apparently it is. Especially “green hydrogen,” which is what Franks is discussing, hydrogen produced using renewable energy.

After reading about hydrogen on the Novaporte website I started trying to educate myself on the subject and I discovered Engineering with Rosie, a YouTube channel hosted by Australian engineering consultant Rosemary Barnes, who discusses various topics related to clean energy. The video below, called “4 Red Flags About the Hydrogen Economy,” sounds some warnings about the hype around green hydrogen but actually suggests that production connected to offshore wind turbines is  promising and that the technology is likely to play a “niche” role in greening the energy grid:


Barnes has promised future videos taking a deeper dive into green hydrogen, particularly into the proposed uses — passenger vehicles and electricity storage — she finds the most dubious but also into the nuts and bolts of  technology. Here, for example, is a video she did in February about the workings of a hydrogen electrolyzer.

I really enjoy Barnes’ approach to her subjects — often skeptical but always ready to change her mind if the facts warrant it — and I find her takes really helpful in gauging the relative potential of various green technologies, all of which tend to be presented equally enthusiastically by the media. (Her consideration of carbon capture and storage, for example, is really good.)

Basically, she’s helping me be more informed about renewables and that’s something I really want to be.


Dateline: Olds

Olds, Alberta Mayor Judy Dahl and former CBRM CAO now Olds CAO Michael Merritt.

Olds, Alberta Mayor Judy Dahl and Michael Merritt.

News of a former CBRM employee reached the Spectator this week, via a Google news alert that sent it to this CKFM story:

A long-time face at the Town of Olds is leaving come February 25th, 2022.

Michael Merrit [sic] has announced his resignation as Chief Administrative Officer.

Merrit has served as C-A-O since spring of 2017, during his time he was responsible for overseeing many positive changes in the community.

A statement released from the Town of Olds credits Merrit’s work on several new developments in Olds, including the new Rotary Athletic Park and Operations Centre.

In the statement, Merrit thanks his staff as well as past and present councils for their support over the years.

Merritt was hired as CAO of the CBRM in 2014 after an expensive executive search through a Toronto head-hunting firm. He chaired the interim Port of Sydney Development Corporation board, made up of the mayor and elected councilors, during the period when it was overseeing the container port project. Although he declared himself happy to be back home (he’s originally from New Victoria), he left us abruptly in 2017 to become CAO in Olds, saying he wished to be near his daughters in Alberta.

And now, he’s hanging up whatever it is retiring CAOs hang up — “suit” seems a little too generic, but I really can’t think of a single item that represents his work.

I guess I can turn off that Google alert now.


Bet on Annette

The fifth episode of Bet On Me, Annette Verschuren’s podcast, features Wesley J Colford, artistic director of the Highland Arts Theatre, which I was honestly surprised to realize is only six years old. It seems like it’s been part of the local arts scene for much longer.

St. Andrew's United Church, Sydney, NS, 2008

St. Andrew’s United Church in 2008, before it became the HAT. (Heritage Division, NS Dept. of Tourism, Culture and Heritage)

Maybe that’s because it’s located in the former St. Andrew’s United Church which, according to Verschuren, is 1900 years old. (Okay, I realize she must simply have misread her script — St. Andrew’s was built in 1911 — but I immediately paused the podcast to go and see what else was going on in 121 A.D. and it seems it was the year Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius was born and Deng Sui, Chinese empress of the Han Dynasty, died. So already, I was having more fun with this episode of Bet On Me than with any other.)

I admire what Colford has done with the HAT — the mainstage productions; the HAT Academy, which is training young, local actors (or building “the supply chain of actors” as Verschuren puts it); and the Radical Access program that has allowed the theater to weather COVID and offer its 12 annual mainstage productions free of charge to anyone who wants to attend.

Colford and Verschuren spend a little time swapping contradictory clichés about Cape Breton — it is filled with “independent,” “self-sufficient” islanders who are blessed with an inordinate amount of talent and yet are also depressive and apathetic and (Colford assumed initially) uninterested in professional theater. (Sigh.)

But Colford’s story is interesting and Verschuren lets them tell it (I didn’t actually play the drinking game I had been considering last week but if I had, I would have remained sober because Verschuren didn’t mention growing up on a farm or her immigrant parents or fish guts, although she did claim to have “worked in the coal mines” when she was young).

Verschuren characterizes the HAT as a classic example of “profit and purpose,” but I think I’d reverse that. Colford says they worked the first five years without taking a salary (supporting themselves through “side projects”) and I don’t think he sees turning a profit as his goal — I think it’s just the means to an end, which is creating a vibrant, lasting cultural institution.

Which isn’t to say the HAT hasn’t made a positive economic contribution to the CBRM.

Colford is now one of 11 full-time, salaried staffers at the theater, which also employs 10-15 regular part-timers and “dozens” of people doing seasonal or contract work. They figure about $700,000 of the theater’s $1.2 million annual budget represents salaries — which means money being spent in the community, because almost all the talent is local. (Although, interestingly, about a quarter of the theater’s donors — through the Radical Access program — don’t live in Cape Breton and aren’t even, necessarily, expat Cape Bretoners. They’re just people who’ve heard about the HAT and like what it’s doing.)

As you can probably tell by the way I’m firing facts at you, I learned a lot from this episode. Oh, alright, I’ll say it: I also enjoyed this episode.

It made me want to go to the theater.