Is Bermuda ready for a green revolution?

Make text smaller Make text larger

For the first time since April 20 there's optimism in the Gulf of Mexico where the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and killed 11 people. British Petroleum cautiously revealed the good news that oil is no longer gushing into the waters.

The US Department of Energy estimates that at least 1.5 million gallons of oil has been spewing every day, with more than 92.2 million gallons as of July 15, polluting the gulf waters. Add to that a sharp escalation in the number of wildlife harmed crude has smeared at least 300 to 400 pelicans and hundreds of terns in the largest seabird nesting area along the Louisiana coast. Across the gulf, wildlife agencies have collected roughly 3,000 killed or oil-covered birds so far.

The positive lesson one hopes in all this is that people will start to change their habits and embrace alternative energy options. At least that's the wish of a Bermudian businessman, who runs a family-owned renewable energy firm on the island. Alan Burland, president of Bermuda Engineering Company (BE), says: "Gulf of Mexico oil spill will have a huge impact. A lot of people will see that they aren't simply immune to these problems and will realise how oil dependence has changed their way of life. I think it will force people to change their habits."

  • <b>Energy from the wind:</b> An example of a cooperative windfarm.

    Energy from the wind: An example of a cooperative windfarm.

  • <b>Design images</b> of the Bermuda Engineering Company's cabins for Prince Edward Island, Canada.

    Design images of the Bermuda Engineering Company's cabins for Prince Edward Island, Canada.


For the first time since April 20 there's optimism in the Gulf of Mexico where the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and killed 11 people. British Petroleum cautiously revealed the good news that oil is no longer gushing into the waters.

The US Department of Energy estimates that at least 1.5 million gallons of oil has been spewing every day, with more than 92.2 million gallons as of July 15, polluting the gulf waters. Add to that a sharp escalation in the number of wildlife harmed crude has smeared at least 300 to 400 pelicans and hundreds of terns in the largest seabird nesting area along the Louisiana coast. Across the gulf, wildlife agencies have collected roughly 3,000 killed or oil-covered birds so far.

The positive lesson one hopes in all this is that people will start to change their habits and embrace alternative energy options. At least that's the wish of a Bermudian businessman, who runs a family-owned renewable energy firm on the island. Alan Burland, president of Bermuda Engineering Company (BE), says: "Gulf of Mexico oil spill will have a huge impact. A lot of people will see that they aren't simply immune to these problems and will realise how oil dependence has changed their way of life. I think it will force people to change their habits."

And according to his 28-year-old son Travis, the company's chief engineer, says the Gulf of Mexico oil spill should be a wakeup call for all of us.

For the last 200 years we've been digging out fossil fuels that have been deposited beneath the earth over millions of years, and adding CO2 to the already stressed environment. The oil companies are becoming bolder and embarking on risky offshore ventures, some of which could pose serious threats not only to people's lives but also to the health of the environment, as we've seen recently.

"We've been abusing the planet for the last 100 years and at an ever increasing rate. Finally it is impacting our lives," says Mr. Burland. He's frustrated that people are not taking global climate change seriously, but feels it's still not too late to solve the climate crisis: "We can collectively solve the crisis if we act now. We can't afford to procrastinate and leave it for the next generation. If we don't address it now there'll be far reaching affects."

Alternative energy is the best way forward, according to Mr. Burland, especially in a sun rich country like Bermuda. Harnessing solar power, especially solar hot water, is a no brainier in his opinion. "The cost is around $7500 for solar panels per household but it will pay off over four to five years. After that people will save at least one third of their electricity bill." He feels the island can be easily producing 30% of its energy needs through renewable sources such as solar panels and offshore wind farms.

These concepts are not new to the Burland family. Seven decades ago, much before alternative energy became a household name, his grandfather Gordon Hamilton Burland founded a renewable energy firm the Bermuda Engineering Company (BE) was created in 1935.

Over 18 months ago, Mr. Burland and his son Travis bought out the company. They've recently opened up an office in Prince Edward Island, Canada. The journey began in 2008 when Mr. Burland was sailing around the Canadian province during the tall ship race. Not only did he fall in love with the scenic beauty, but he also noticed wind turbines dominating the landscape.

They say lady luck is on your side when opportunity and preparedness meet, and it was one of those serendipity moments for Mr. Burland. He found the people "very engaging and helpful and it was easy to explore opportunities. Real estate is well priced and we were able to purchase a 70-acre hilly site with a house and refurbished barn for a very reasonable price."

He visited the island frequently, befriended the locals and built strong business relationships hoping to transfer knowledge on renewable technologies to Bermuda, while giving something back to the people of Prince Edward Island.

Today the Burlands and NewEn Canada are working on a green deal with the utility company in Prince Edward Island (PEI). They are planning to erect several community owned 30MW wind farms on 3400 acres per farm. "This allows for the money to re-stimulate local economy, so they can help pay schools, fire department etc. And of course there will be obvious benefits from the renewable energy in their own backyard," he says. The surveys have been conducted and NewEn & BE's proposal is currently being considered by the PEI utility Maritime Electric. If all goes well the wind farm could be ready as early as next year.

That's not all. In 2009 BE also collaborated with the engineering department at the University of PEI and Holland College (a trade school in PEI), and jointly launched a sustainable cabin competition. Students used their engineering and research skills to build a sustainable and 'liveable' home with renewable energy systems and eco-friendly materials. The winning model will be used to build sustainable cabins in the fall of 2010. Each year three to five such cabins will be built at BE's site in North Granville, PEI.

Over time, more such cabins will be outfitted with all amenities and rented to visitors interested in sustainable living. At the end of their stay the guests will receive a summary of what a normal house would consume and the amount of money they could save by implementing some of the eco-friendly technologies used in the cabins, without compromising their comfort. That's the key people would not have to compromise their comfort.

Mr. Burland plans to bring the sustainable cabins to Bermuda. "We are talking with a number of hotels and guest houses in this regard. Our vision is to help people see firsthand what sustainable living is about. This enriching experience will show people that you can live comfortably in sustainable housing and save quite a bit of money at same time. Better yet, you learn that you can really help the planet, by reducing your carbon footprint, and lessening the energy consumed in daily life."

Locally BE provides energy assessments, to help bring down energy costs. BE also installs solar thermal and photovoltaic panels, which are being custom designed to suit the island's aesthetics. The panels are modelled with white metal edges rather than the standard black frames to blend with Bermuda's signature white roofs. Mr. Burland is inspired that the Government of Bermuda's recently released Green Paper provides tax incentives for solar panels.

BE also plans to introduce offshore wind farms in Bermuda, the technology will most likely be transferred from Denmark. "The tripod stands which hold the wind turbines are environmentally friendly. It is important to site them in areas where the barges used to erect the wind turbines can easily access them, so we don't have to destroy coral reefs."

Meantime Mr. Burland concedes that there is no one silver bullet to resolving the energy crisis. A combination of renewable sources such as solar, and wind would work, but the key he says is for communities to come together and act quickly. He says "Bermuda is an affluent country and affluence breeds complacency. So we are slow to respond. We produce our entire electricity using diesel fuel. But we can be a global leader and set an example because Bermuda is a small country and if we get together we can make a significant difference quickly."

And in doing so perhaps avert another oil rig explosion and save human lives as well as the wildlife, while reducing our carbon footprint on this priceless planet earth.

Meantime Travis hopes that his generation will not make the same mistakes: "I believe there are many lessons to be learned; we must learn to evolve the mindset of our generation to improve and fix the inefficient technologies and lifestyles we have inherited from previous generations that are still prevalent today."

And he has this message for young people: "Create your future, and be mindful of your impact on our precious planet!"

l Article written by Sangita Iyer, founding executive director of the Bermuda Environmental Alliance (www.bermuda-bea.org).

Take Our Poll

  • Which of the following best describes your opinion on how Senior Civil Servant job positions should be granted?
  • Senior civil servants should be appointed on a temporary contract renewable basis.
  • 74%
  • Senior civil servants should continue to be appointed on a permanent basis
  • 18%
  • Don't Know
  • 8%
  • Total Votes: 2155
  • Poll Archive

Today's Obituaries

View all Obituaries Place an obituary

Facebook Activity