Belco sale could end ‘turmoil’ – Roban
A new team at the helm of Belco is expected to restore faith in the power company, the Minister of Home Affairs said yesterday.
Walter Roban claimed that public confidence in the electricity provider was at an “all-time low” — but predicted that would change with the proposed sale of parent firm Ascendant to Canadian-based Algonquin.
He said: “I don't have to remind ... members of the public of the turmoil over the last two years, including serious industrial action, the dismissal of highly qualified and experienced Bermudian executives and other staff, and major disruption in the power generation ... most recently the problems with air quality and discharge from the North Station power plant.
“At this juncture, I want to assure residents that the Regulatory Authority, the ministry, along with the Environmental Authority, are obtaining an independent opinion regarding this issue which should contribute to a solution.”
Mr Roban added: “The new North Station replacement generation plant was brought into operation with a considerable amount of optimism.”
But he said: “There have been a number of instances, publicly reported, since the plant came online of discharge and air quality issues that have plagued the area around the plant.
“I have for myself seen the results of these unacceptable occurrences.
“Neighbours are right now unhappy, frustrated and concerned about the damage to their properties, the quality of their water from their tanks and their overall environmental welfare.”
The minister claimed that there was dissatisfaction with Belco's response to the problem.
Mr Roban said that the Government was looking at what the company could do to “mitigate the situation and further discharge events”.
He added: “This will include scrubbers on the stacks, assisting property owners with ensuring clean water is available and proactive steps to remediate property damage from any discharges.”
Mr Roban said: “Public confidence right now in Belco is at an all-time low.
“But we expect that the new leadership, who will come out of the process of the change of control, will want to do everything possible to restore confidence in Belco as a good corporate citizen.
“Algonquin is a company with substantial experience in renewable energy. It is our expectation that they will bring that level of commitment to Bermuda.”
Mr Roban added: “This government is committed to a green revolution and we know that the future Belco company, that will succeed the changing of control, will be a partner to us achieving this.”
Ascendant announced on Monday that it had approval from the Regulatory Authority “for the change in control of Bermuda Electric Light Company Limited as a necessary step to complete the sale of Ascendant to Algonquin Power and Utilities Corporation”.
Mr Roban said: “That approval was not given until I was satisfied, as the minister responsible for regulatory affairs, that the application met the requirements of my directions.”
He added that priorities included “protecting the end users of electricity with respect to pricing and affordability, adequacy, safety and reliability”, the promotion of cleaner energy, provision of “non-discriminatory access to the grid” and a drive towards energy efficiency.
Mr Roban said: “This represents, what we feel, is a real opportunity with the eventual conclusion of the process of the change and control of Ascendant/Belco for new leadership to take this company, our only utility company, in a positive sustainable direction.”
The deal, however, still has to go through several regulatory hoops before it gets the go-ahead.
Mr Roban said that financial and company-related matters still had to be completed for final approval of the sale but that they would be handled by the Ministry of Finance.
He confirmed a licence under company law would be required to provide for exemption from the 60:40 rule, which was designed to ensure majority Bermudian ownership of companies.
But he said that would be the responsibility of the finance ministry.
Trading in Ascendant shares resumed on the Bermuda Stock Exchange at noon yesterday after a temporary suspension on Monday before the announcement of approval by the regulator.
Mr Roban added that a “competent persons scheme” would start with solar installers and existing companies so that they could gain certification and be “trusted to carry out installations of solar panels without the regular planning inspection process” although “checks and balances” would be included.
A training programme will also be introduced to increase the number of solar power installers.
Mr Roban said the planning department, provided there was legislative approval, would introduce reduced fees for planning applications and building permits related to renewable energy.
He added that he was pleased that planners had backed “a significantly large and impressive solar array installation” at the drinks firm Bacardi's global headquarters on Pitts Bay Road in Pembroke.
Mr Roban said the solar array would be made up of 748 panels, cover an area of 13,478 square feet and generate 254.32 kilowatts.
He added: “Working with the Regulatory Authority, we will be tabling legislation in the next sitting of the House to create a ‘regulatory sandbox' to encourage international investment to test new renewable technologies in Bermuda.
“We are already working with potential investors to provide support and locations to test their new technologies.”
• To view the statement in full from the Minister of Home Affairs, click on the PDF link under “Related Media”