Airport solar farm goes on stream to Belco grid
Electricity from Bermuda’s first large-scale solar farm has started to feed into the island’s electricity grid, power firm Belco revealed yesterday.
A Belco spokesman said that the six-megawatt solar farm – on a disused runway at the airport called the Finger – “achieved commercial operation on November 17”.
He added that the 19-acre site, developed by Canadian-based Saturn Power, was “delivering energy to Belco’s electricity grid under the terms of a power purchase agreement”.
The spokesman said: “A team from Belco has been working with the developers on the project for the past four years and building and upgrading the necessary infrastructure to enable the solar farm to deliver energy to the grid.
“This involved a major upgrade to the substation near the airport and cabling infrastructure and associated equipment to allow up to 6MW of electricity to be safely added to the grid.”
Wayne Caines, the president of Belco, said: “This is an exciting development and important milestone for the solar farm developers, for Belco and the people of Bermuda.’
Belco added it would not release the rates paid to the solar farm for its power.
The spokesman added that the combination of the Finger project and rooftop solar panels meant that about 12 megawatts of electricity were generated from sunshine “on good days”.
He said Belco’s daily load was about 70 megawatts at this time of year.
A Saturn Power spokesman later told The Royal Gazette that the company was unable to comment publicly “based on confidentiality agreements”.
Walter Roban, then the Minister of Transport and Regulatory Affairs, said in March 2018 that a solar farm at the airport could be operational by the end of the next financial year.
It was announced in June that year that Saturn Solar Bermuda 1, a subsidiary of Saturn Power, would develop the site.
Mr Roban said that the company was the lowest bidder of nine candidates – six of them Bermudian – at 10.3 cents per kilowatt hour.
He explained that replacement of imported fossil fuel with solar power would keep at least $20 million in the island’s economy over the farm’s lifetime.
Mr Roban added that the scheme would also allow “part of our electricity bills to remain stable for the next 20 years”.
It was announced that the Government would be paid $5,000 per acre in rent for the site.
Documents submitted as part of a Bulk Generation Licence application to the Regulatory Authority, published in August 2019, said: “Saturn Power’s mission is to ensure the safe, efficient and timely installation of the project and long-term operation of the project to exceed the expectations of the Government of Bermuda, the citizens of Bermuda and local agencies.”
The submission included an “expected commercial operation date” of September 2019.
Saturn Solar Bermuda 1 was granted a licence to produce power from April last year.
It emerged in October last year that a contract with Noesis Consulting Limited, a Bermudian company hired to manage the construction of the plant, was pulled.
Noesis launched a $1.3 million legal action against Saturn Solar Developments and alleged that the company suffered damages after it was fired.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Home Affairs, Mr Roban’s present ministry, said at the time that the plant would “hopefully” be producing electricity by the end of 2020.
Mr Roban said last August that there had been some infrastructure problems at the 24,000-panel solar farm that had to be resolved.
He added: “Over time those had been sorted out and we look forward to seeing that power contributing to the overall power infrastructure in Bermuda.”
Mr Roban said that the energy would be used to supplement peak load.
He added that there would be “a slight lowering of costs to every electricity user in Bermuda as a result of the solar facility at the Finger”.
Jeanne Nikolai, the Government’s director of energy, said at the time that the developers were “very close” to commissioning.
She added: “It could be as soon as the next few weeks, so that is exciting.”
A home affairs ministry spokesman said this month that the Government was "neither the owner nor the operator, merely the landlord“ at the site and added ”we are not directly involved in the project”.
He added that structural and electrical engineers had “stamped the working drawings and the building control inspections did not reveal anything untoward”.
He said: “Also, as with anything built in our harsh environment, there may be ongoing maintenance issues.
“However, we are not aware of any specific problems regarding the suitability of equipment installed being appropriate for a coastal environment.”
The government spokesman added: “Our only concern is that the project functions as intended and the owner lives up to the other terms of the agreement, which includes delivering power to the grid, the owner paying their rent, and clearing the site once their tenancy concludes.”