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Building permit fee slashed for airport solar farm development

The solar farm at the Finger by the airport, developed by Saturn Solar Bermuda 1 (Photograph supplied)

A “substantially lower” building permit fee was offered to the developers of a solar farm at the airport, a home affairs ministry spokesman has confirmed.

He added that the reduced rate – understood to be $100,000 – was justified because of the site’s acreage and the project’s relative simplicity.

The figure was revealed in a checklist of obligations released to The Royal Gazette by the Department of Energy in response to a Public Access to Information request.

A Ministry of Public Works spokesman added yesterday that nearly $12,000 was paid to Saturn Solar Bermuda 1, the developer of the six-megawatt plant, to cover the removal of asbestos cement piping at the former US naval airbase.

The Government leases land at the Finger to the company and the two parties monitored progress of the project in a spreadsheet.

A government entry in February 2019 said: “We note your comments in the annual update in respect of the building permit that Saturn is ‘awaiting discussion around reasonable fees’.

“The level of building permit fees is a matter of public record and Saturn should have been aware of them when formulating its bid for the solar project.

“Planning fees are not freely negotiable.

“While Government may be prepared to discuss with Saturn the level of building permit fees to be applied to the solar project, Saturn’s obligations in respect of the solar project are clearly set out in the project documents.”

On April 3, 2019, another Government update in April 2019 said: “Minister of Finance has approved a fee of $100k."

It was recorded that the building permit fees were received about two weeks later and that the permit was issued.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Home Affairs said last week: “Concerning the level of building permit fees for the solar project, while there was never a quoted price, the tender documents note that the developer pays all associated costs.

“These documents are publicly available, as is the information on how fees are calculated.

“For perspective, permit fees are applied on a 'per square foot of development’ basis and were designed for building projects such as complex multistorey structures.

“In this instance and for a development of this nature, the permit fees are relatively high by global standards.”

He added: “The solar farm has an extensive footprint – almost 19 acres – with a relatively low level of complexity, thereby justifying a lower amount, as the fees were exceptionally high when calculated with the current rates.

“The developer requested a lower rate in alignment with the established global standards.

“And while the requested rate was not approved, the rate offered was substantially lower than what it would have been without the concession.”

The solar farm started feeding energy into the island’s electricity grid last November.

It is expected to be able to provide up to 13 per cent of the island’s energy needs at maximum solar production.

A checklist update on September 27, 2019 said that Saturn had issued a “hazardous substance/indemnity notice”.

The Government said later that its hazardous materials team and a contractor would be drafted in to carry out remediation work.

An entry on May 15, 2020 said that payment of the indemnity notice was approved.

A public works ministry spokesman said yesterday that $11,808 was paid at the time “to compensate for the costs associated with the specialist remediation of hazardous materials from the solar farm construction site”.

He explained: “The hazardous material in question was asbestos cement pipe, a common building material used in the former United States base area.

“The agreement with Saturn Solar stated that the Government was responsible for removing hazardous materials found on the site.

“On this occasion, the developer carried out the work and sought reimbursement.”

Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, told the House of Assembly in March 2019 that the site contained disused fuel tanks and other “strange equipment” which needed careful handling.

The spreadsheet also showed that an indemnity notice related to site clearing work – also a Government responsibility – was issued by Saturn in August 2019.

No further information about the site clearing claim was supplied by the Ministry of Public Works by press time.

* To read the Request for Proposals for the solar project, click on the PDF under “Related Media”. Click here to download the checklist.

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Published January 22, 2022 at 8:09 am (Updated January 22, 2022 at 8:09 am)

Building permit fee slashed for airport solar farm development

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