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Belco fails to respond to estimates it fails proposed air quality standards

Testing times: Bermuda Electric Light Company plant in Pembroke (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Belco has failed to confirm or deny whether there are levels of air contaminants surrounding its Pembroke plant that exceed the UK limits with which Bermuda aims to align under new air quality laws.

The UK Air Quality Objective sets the maximum number of sulphur dioxide exceedances over a 15-minute period at 35 per year. According to the minutes of emissions regulator the Environmental Authority, a unit on Ocean Lane, Pembroke detected 63 exceedances of the chemical compound last year.

The Bermuda Clean Air Coalition, a clean air advocacy group set up as a direct result of Belco emissions, said it estimated that if air monitoring units were positioned in a 360 degree arc around the plant, the recorded exceedances of the UK objective would be “dramatically higher than the 63 exceedances of just sulphur dioxide found at just one monitoring station located almost a kilometre away from Belco’s main entrance”.

The Royal Gazette asked Belco if it could provide any conclusive evidence that there are no such exceedances for sulphur dioxide or any other contaminants including nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter in other areas surrounding the plant.

A Belco spokesman responded: “Belco continually works with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to ensure air monitoring stations are most appropriately situated according to best industry and scientific practice.

"Belco’s Occupational Health Safety and Environment team constantly monitors effects of our operations on the adjacent neighbourhood and across Bermuda, and works closely with the DENR to ensure emissions are within required regulatory limits.”

While the 63 exceedances is above the UK Air Quality Objective limit, it remains in compliance with Bermuda’s Clean Air Regulations 1993.

However the regulations, which are set under the Clean Air Act 1991, are being updated in the Clean Air Act Amendment Bill. The Government has said the legislation will bring Bermuda’s regulations in line with the UK limits. Under the amendment, target levels for emissions will become “limit values” – legally binding parameters that must not be exceeded.

This means exceedance levels such as those found at Ocean Lane last year will no longer be permitted under Bermuda law.

Belco has introduced a new procedure to switch to a lower-sulphur, more refined diesel when the wind carries the chemicals in the direction of Ocean Lane over a certain speed.

The Royal Gazette first asked Belco for its air monitoring reports on September 18 and was told by the company spokesman: “All air quality monitoring reports are available at the DENR.”

We requested the reports from government and, following a period of several weeks, submitted a Public Access to Information request in order to receive them.

Belco’s soot issue

Belco pollution also includes soot fallouts as a result of challenges with the operation of the North Power Station. The fallouts result in soot raining down on nearby roofs and property. The Royal Gazette asked Belco for the number of soot fallouts that had occurred and the number of complaints received. While Belco did not put a figure to the number of fallouts or complaints, it revealed the following remedial actions it had carried out as a result of soot fallouts over the past year:

. Completed 130 roof painting requests

. Restored 45 vehicles

. Installed 44 water filtration systems

A spokesman said: “Since the commissioning of the North Power Station, Belco has communicated with neighbours via telephone, e-mail, house visits, town halls, meetings, radio, local news, social media, letters, and more …

“Belco is not experiencing an increase in these events in recent days or weeks. We are doing several things to limit the incidents, inclusive of alternative fuel for start ups, and monitoring wind conditions for days of unfavourable wind direction. Where possible engine start ups and maintenance activities are conducted when the wind is favourable. However, this is not always possible given the islands electricity demands …

“To further assess impact of plant operations, Belco will conduct water quality testing in the neighbouring community in December. Belco encourages those who may experience any negative impacts to their property or vehicles as result of Belco operations to contact the Occupational Health, Safety and Environment team directly via e-mail on ohse@belco.bm

BCAC, made up of area residents and businesses affected by Belco emissions, said it has repeatedly asked the Government to be consulted on the legislation being drafted.

A BCAC spokesman said: “We are concerned that Belco is attempting to lobby the Government so they water down the Clean Air Act and make it less onerous or costly for Belco.”

Asked if this was the case, the Belco spokesman said: “Belco welcomes the Government’s desire to enhance environmental emissions regulations and looks forward to it extending to other sources of atmospheric pollution from vehicles. Belco has always met legislated standards and will continue to do so.”

The new legislation is also expected to set new penalties for non-compliance of emissions regulations.

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Published November 14, 2022 at 7:57 am (Updated November 14, 2022 at 7:57 am)

Belco fails to respond to estimates it fails proposed air quality standards

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