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Power on for solar farm despite hurricane impacts and Covid delays

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Soaking it in: the new solar panel installation on “The Finger”, a disused runway on a peninsula at LF Wade International Airport on St David’s Island (Photograph supplied)

Problems linked to the Covid-19 pandemic delayed the completion of the island’s first large-scale solar farm, the Minister of Home Affairs said yesterday.

Walter Roban added that he was satisfied that the Canadian-based developer, Saturn Solar Bermuda 1, and its subcontractors worked as well as they could under the circumstances.

The six-megawatt solar plant started feeding into the electricity grid last month, almost three-and-a-half years after the contract was awarded.

Mr Roban could not confirm how far behind schedule the project’s completion was.

But he said: “The delays were primarily associated with the pandemic."

The minister added: “There were also some issues with infrastructure that had to be laid to ensure that the power could be effectively used from the Finger to the utility, so some of the infrastructure in the east end of the island did have to be advanced and changed to accommodate those issues.

“Of course, there are some things that just come about … [that] you don’t anticipate in the development of an infrastructure project this size that you have to deal with.

“But we’re satisfied that the developer along with the subcontractors and the utility have worked as efficiently as possible under the conditions over the last couple of years to get this project to where it is now.

“We’re so pleased that it’s finally in operation.”

He said: “We’re satisfied that the delays were things that could not have been avoided.”

Mr Roban said: “At maximum solar production, the facility will provide up to 13 per cent of the island’s energy needs to meet peak demand and is a testament to the work by the Government, dating back to 2008, to advance the country's transition towards greater use of renewable energy.

“Bermuda's sustainability and renewable energy strategy continues to make us a regional leader in this space.”

Green energy: the new solar panel installation on “The Finger”, a disused runway on a peninsula at LF Wade International Airport on St David’s Island (File photograph)

The minister congratulated the developer as well as the Bermudians involved in the project.

He praised Liberty Group, the parent company of Belco, for its role in working towards greater use of renewable energy.

A spokesman for Saturn Power Inc, the firm behind its island-based affiliate, said that development started in 2018 and construction began in 2019.

He added: “With a series of delays, due mostly to the global Covid-19 pandemic, construction work on the project was concluded in late 2021 with commissioning and final grid preparations occurring over the past number of weeks.

“The energy produced from this inaugural project will help Bermuda to achieve its sustainable energy goals.

“Given the timeline for construction, the facility has already experienced two separate hurricane events on the island, withstanding all associated elements of each respective storm, without any significant damage to the equipment on site.”

Doug Wagner, the Saturn Power chief executive officer, added: “Bringing this project to commercial operation has involved a tremendous amount of time, effort and perseverance from all those involved, including the Saturn team, the Bermuda Government and the local utility, Belco.”

“After a long journey, we are tremendously proud of the hard work and collaboration that has resulted in this first of its kind project on the island and we look forward to ensuring that the people of Bermuda enjoy the benefits of clean, renewable energy for decades to come.”

Question mark over infrastructure fund deal

Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, was unable to say what progress was made on a planned $9.1 million acquisition of the solar project by the Bermuda Infrastructure Fund.

The deal was revealed by Curtis Dickinson, the Minister of Finance, in the House of Assembly last June.

He said then: “The fund has signed a letter of intent to acquire the project for $9.1 million and is expeditiously working towards definitive documents and commissioning of the project.

“The deal is expected to close in June of 2021.”

The Royal Gazette last month asked the Government, Saturn Power and Joseph Adams, the chief executive officer of BIF manager Fortress, for an update on the proposed acquisition but received none.

Mr Roban said today: “I would not have any involvement with that, that would be a regulatory matter.

“The change of control of a utility scale energy operation is a matter for the regulator.”

He explained that an application would have to be made to the regulator and he would not be informed until the process was complete.

Mr Roban added: “I’m not aware of the progress of that at this point.”

A spokeswoman for the Regulatory Authority of Bermuda said last month that the organisation does not comment on “proposed or active applications, except through a specific process that solicits public feedback”.

She added there had been no public consultation on the ownership of the Finger solar farm project.

Mr Roban said that the Government, working with the Regulatory Authority, will pave the way for “additional investment in Bermuda to facilitate innovation and renewable energy technology developers testing their products in Bermuda”.

Plans include a sandbox – a light touch regulatory framework designed to encourage innovation – to attract renewable energy technology developers to test their products in Bermuda.

The minister added: “We are also working to partner with local and international companies to set up a Green Energy Fund to provide capital to deploy solar installations through the island.

“The purpose here is to expand access for those residents who can least afford the upfront investment in renewables.

“New regulations will also address the fuel surcharge cost for electricity and better regulate the storage and distribution of fuel.

“Ultimately, these initiatives will reduce the cost of electricity for Bermuda's residents and businesses.”

* To read the minister’s remarks or the Saturn Power statement in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”.

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Published December 17, 2021 at 7:56 am (Updated December 17, 2021 at 7:56 am)

Power on for solar farm despite hurricane impacts and Covid delays

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