OBA accuses minister of ‘washing his hands’ of Belco emissions issue
Home affairs minister Walter Roban was accused yesterday of trying to “wash his hands” of the emissions issues at Belco.
Earlier this week, the Regulatory Authority accused Belco of deliberately misleading the public about emissions from its North Power Station.
The authority said that senior officers at Belco had “made concerted efforts to misinform the public” and that a representative had been “selective” about what information was shared.
Today the Shadow Minister for Home Affairs and Legal Affairs, Scott Pearman, called the Regulatory Authority’s accusations “extremely concerning”.
He added that for Bermuda’s official energy regulator to caution Belco as it did was “virtually unprecedented.”
He said: “Sadly, these issues are not new. Resident groups and the Bermuda Clean Air Coalition have been critical of smoke, soot, noise and other emissions from Belco escaping into surrounding neighbourhoods for years.”
Mr Pearman said that someone living close to Belco had shared a photograph with him showing the roof apparently covered in orange soot.
“Would you tolerate this debris on your roof? And where is the Government in all of this?”
He said that David Burt’s administration has been practically silent when it came to issues with Belco.
“When the Minister for the Environment released a press statement last month, the PLP Government assured the public that ‘tank drinking water from the soot-affected roofs met the drinking water standards and the WHO guidelines’.
“Now the minister seeks to wash his hands of the matter, saying it is an issue for the RA. Yet it is the Government that is responsible for our environmental health.”
“I can advise that the Government, through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, continue to be heavily involved with the Environmental Authority and Belco to address the environmental issues impacting neighbours. The work is ongoing, and the public will be advised as soon as possible of the next steps.
“To suggest that the Government has no interest in the impact of Belco's power plant emissions from their North Tower is an absolute falsehood. My only reference to the RA was in support of their recent public statement cautioning Belco about information relating to and using liquefied natural gas.
“The issue of the choice of generation for the island is a matter that falls under the remit of the Regulatory Authority of Bermuda and is a matter for the RA to address. However, it had no bearing on the numerous justifiable complaints concerning the unacceptable situation area residents and businesses face from Belco's emissions.”
Mr Pearman also condemned the Government’s recent termination of the air-quality testing project, which had been going on for decades and involved the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences.
The Government described the $230,000 cost to run the testing project efficiently as prohibitive.
“Perhaps Belco might like to fund the Bios project to give our community greater comfort about our air quality? Even better, why not expand the project to install Bios-monitored air-quality testing in the neighbourhoods surrounding Belco,” Mr Pearman said.
“The Government needs to get a grip on these serious issues. We need leaders who believe government is about more than just getting re-elected. We need principled leadership and action to solve our Island’s problems.”
Wayne Caines, the Belco president, said that the North Power Station had some “unforeseen challenges” caused in part by the use of heavy fuel oil rather than liquid natural gas.
“While HFO was intended to be a back-up fuel, it has been used as the primary fuel source since the commissioning as the Regulatory Authority’s 2019 Integrated Resource Plan did not prefer natural gas as a fuel option.
“Contrary to the legislative process, the RA published its own version of an IRP that did not select a scenario that included natural gas.
“This change in primary fuel source led to unforeseen challenges that began in June 2020 with our area residents reporting their experiences with daily soot fallout issues and daily fuel odours that were becoming untenable.”
Mr Caines said that through consultation it was discovered that the fallout issues were caused by the combustion pressure on the engines being optimised for natural gas and Belco began to work on solutions to address the issue.
“We are proud of this progress but can assure you that we will not stop until we reach 100 per cent optimisation, which requires a further improvement,” he said.
“Our team of highly skilled engineers are currently investigating and assessing further measures to increase combustion pressures to eradicate the small gap remaining between us and complete optimisation.”
According to the RA, after receiving its permission, Belco built the North Power Station to optimise LNG first.
“It made the decision based on its assumption that the public and the RA would readily accept liquefied natural gas for energy generation at that time,” the authority said.
“However, when the RA conducted several public consultations on the Integrated Resource Plan proposal and several alternative generation proposals from the public, there was little support for LNG.”
It added: “The RA advises that if the issue is that the Belco plant was configured for natural gas and now has been retrofitted for liquid fuels, which is still problematic, Belco should address technical issues and mechanical issues with the vendor and hold them accountable to make the necessary repairs as a matter of urgency.”