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Completion date for solar project repeatedly changed, records show

Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs but then the transport minister, and Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, sign an agreement with Doug Wagner, president of Saturn Power in June 2018 (File photograph by Jonathan Bell)

A target date for the completion of the island’s first large-scale solar farm was repeatedly changed, records have revealed.

Updates between the Government and Saturn Solar Bermuda 1, the developer of the six-megawatt plant at the airport, showed that the project was originally expected to be finished by July 2019.

Energy from the solar farm started feeding into the electricity grid last November under a power purchase agreement with utility company Belco.

The Government agreed to lease Saturn the 19-acre site, which is on a disused runway known as the Finger.

Progress of the work was detailed in a spreadsheet of obligations that was released to The Royal Gazette by the Department of Energy in response to a Public Access to Information request.

A government update on February 11, 2019 said that an amendment document extended the scheduled commercial operation date from July 18, 2019 to January 18, 2020.

It added: “The agreement for lease states that the works long stop date is July 18, 2019.

“Does Saturn intend to apply to government to amend the works long stop date in the agreement for lease?”

Another update 16 days later said it was understood that Saturn requested an amendment to the long stop date – an agreed date by which a project must be complete – to January 18, 2020.

Saturn’s March 4, 2019 update said: “We are working aggressively towards the July 18, 2019 works long stop date in the agreement for lease, however, would like the date to align with the first amendment to PPA to avoid damages.”

By January 24, 2020, the obligations checklist showed that Saturn had “received verbal agreement from Belco” to extend the commercial operation date to September 18, 2020.

On October 16, 2020 the long stop date was recorded as November 30.

But an entry on November 13, 2020 said: “Saturn requested extension to works long stop date to Jan 31, 2021 via e-mail.”

Requests were later made to extend the long stop date to March 31 then April 30, 2021.

The checklist also referred to a long stop date extension letter for June 30 and then a Saturn request for extension to November 15, 2021.

A Belco spokesman said last year that the solar farm “achieved commercial operation on November 17”.

A spokesman for Saturn Power, the Ontario-based owner of SSB1, said last month that development on the project started in 2018 “with construction and permitting work beginning in late 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.”

An entry in the checklist spreadsheet on March 13, 2020 said: “Delays due to Covid-19 could occur based on travel restrictions of overseas technical consultants needed to oversee the connection of the transmission cable.”

In January 2021 it was logged that a “protect and control” team from Quebec would be unable to visit the island because of the virus.

An entry last April said that there had been a delay owing to “exposure” of contractor staff who were “under mandatory quarantine”.

On October 1, 2021, it was noted: “Belco are also experiencing restraints on staff availability due to Covid.”

Ministry of Health figures showed that active coronavirus cases were at 1,106 on that date.

An entry to the spreadsheet dated June 19, 2020 said: “Very close to completion of construction.”

But at the same time, it was noted that a submarine cable was damaged and a remediation plan was implemented.

The update added: “ … new fibre cable going to be installed to address. Estimate eight to ten weeks.”

Although the cable was expected to be shipped and received by the end of August 2020, delays – including reported staff shortages at the manufacturers – meant it did not reach the island until October 21 that year.

It took about another month to reach an agreement for receipt of the replacement from Bermudian firm Noesis, which was hired to supply and install a submarine power and fibre optic cable but the contract was later terminated.

The company had been enlisted in May 2019, also to manage the solar plant’s construction.

By January last year the updates showed that the submarine cable was installed by Crisson, a Bermudian construction company, on Christmas Eve 2020.

Tests were carried out at the site over the next few months – some identifying more problems.

But an entry dated November 19, 2021, said: “Commercial operation achieved – Saturn Solar Bermuda 1 selling power back to Belco as of 17/11.

“All major works on site are complete – vegetation clearing, drainage, protection bollards etc.”

It added that Saturn was moving to the operation and maintenance phase of the project.

The Royal Gazette asked Saturn several questions including some related to the damaged submarine cable and how many times the long stop date changed.

A spokesman for the company said that Saturn had “confidentiality obligations to various stakeholders” and could not comment until “approvals from stakeholders were obtained".

He added: "As such, we will politely decline comment at this time.“

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Published January 18, 2022 at 7:50 am (Updated January 18, 2022 at 7:49 am)

Completion date for solar project repeatedly changed, records show

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