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Minister says urgent action needed to control volume of soot emissions from Belco

Centre of complaint: Belco’s north power plant (File photograph)

The Government is putting pressure on electricity supplier Belco to reduce emissions from its North Power Station.

Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, said that the company, along with the Environmental Authority, needed to take “urgent action … to ensure that the volume of soot entering the environment is addressed”.

In a statement released yesterday, Mr Roban added that the Government was in the process of updating clean-air laws, which could impose stiffer penalties on offenders.

Pembroke residents neighbouring the plant have been complaining of soot fallouts from the facility since the North Power Station was upgraded two years ago. The company has said it is investigating the matter.

Last week one Pembroke resident said debris was falling “like black snow”.

Mr Roban said that the Government’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources had received complaints of soot particles collecting on roofs and vehicles, emissions from tall stacks and odours leaking from hot oil and fuel tanks.

Describing the situation as “unacceptable”, Mr Roban said: “We can and must do better to protect the health and safety of those in our community and our environment.”

Mr Roban said that the new plant was emitting large soot particles which had a “visible and longer-lived impact on Bermuda's roofs, patios, gardens, driveways and road vehicles”.

He added: “The soot appears to be periodically emitted from the normal operation of the new dual-fuel NPS engines. A root cause of the soot emissions has not been identified. DENR await updates from Belco on the successful implementation of measures to resolve these issues.”

The minister said methods to improve the monitoring of soot emissions are being investigated as efforts in the past had been unsuccessful meaning it is difficult to set measurable limits.

“As it stands now, Belco and the EA learn of such soot events from impacted area residents. We are investigating methods to improve this system,” the minister added.

"Urgent action is needed by Belco and the Environmental Authority to ensure that the volume of soot entering the environment is addressed."

Mr Roban said that new legislation currently in the draft stage “will put new clean-air limits to ensure businesses take the necessary steps to prevent the down drafting of exhaust emissions and fumes from tanks entering the environment”.

He said: “It will also introduce new odour regulations for controlled plants licensed under the Clean Air Act 1991. Modern enforcement measures and penalties will also be reviewed and considered for these draft legislative measures.”

Mr Roban assured residents that tank drinking water analysed from soot-affected roofs met the drinking water standards and the World Health Organisation's guidelines.

“Despite this, we understand that these standards are of little comfort to people with vehicles and property covered with debris from the Belco power plant and entering their only water source.

"For many years, Pembroke residents, particularly in the vicinity of Belco, have been subjected to unfortunate incidences of discharges from Belco.

“I know the company has been working to find solutions to mitigate this issue for quite some time. At a meeting some weeks ago, Belco gave area residents great detail on their actions and the result they hoped would come. It is apparent that thus far the residents have not perceived the benefits of these actions."

Mr Roban issued his statement after a senator criticised Belco during today’s session of the Upper House.

Speaking during the motion to adjourn this afternoon, independent senator Michelle Simmons said: “There’s something I just can’t get out of my mind.

“For the past week we have been bombarded with information regarding emissions coming from Belco.

“We have seen the unfortunate plight of residents who live near the plant and I would suggest that we look at the entire neighbourhood surrounding that plant.

“Residents are very concerned about their health. They are concerned about their properties which have been bombarded with unnecessary pollutants.”

Ms Simmons, a biochemist, added: “Some people are saying it’s rust, but who is testing what is coming out of Belco? Who is looking closely at those emissions to find out what is really there?

“I know that the truth is somebody needs to take the plight of those residents seriously. I don’t think that foremost in the minds of the residents is the fact that their properties are diminishing in value. They are, but once you lose your health, you can’t get it back.

“Is Belco being held accountable for what it’s doing to those residents? I wonder, because in other jurisdictions, they would have been settled with a hefty fine by now.

“I think it’s time to take this seriously. It doesn’t seem to be an emergency situation for anyone but the residents, but they need to be protected from what is going on at Belco.”

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Published July 21, 2022 at 7:55 am (Updated July 21, 2022 at 8:05 am)

Minister says urgent action needed to control volume of soot emissions from Belco

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