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Report shows Belco failed to use light fuel oil at critical times

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Clearing the Air. an investigation by The Royal Gazette (File image)

A measure designed to reduce the fallout of soot from Belco’s North Power Station on to neighbouring properties was not implemented by the energy firm, The Royal Gazette has learnt.

According to the latest publicly available minutes from emissions regulator the Environmental Authority, a procedure by which light fuel oil, rather than the higher-polluting heavy fuel oil, is burnt during problematic periods and when adverse weather was predicted “has not been adopted to date”.

It has been discussed in previous meetings that such a measure at the Pembroke plant would have prevented some of the pollution being endured by residents when the weather was likely to exacerbate the problem.

Belco has instead waited for adverse weather to have been recorded and complaints from residents logged before making the switch.

Wayne Caines, president of Belco and parent company Liberty, said in the meeting dated March 23 that because LFO is more expensive to burn, it is not seen as a viable long-term solution to the problem.

The minutes state: “Belco confirmed that the [standard operating procedure] in which fuel switching from HFO to LFO would be undertaken if adverse weather conditions were predicted, has not been adopted to date.

“Belco's current [SOP] is to wait until adverse weather conditions are recorded at the Bermuda #2 Monitoring Station [Langton Hill] and complaints are received before fuel switching will occur.

“Mr Caines said that it is very costly to switch to LFO [ultra low sulphur diesel – road diesel], especially considering the high rate of taxes paid for fuel.”

The Ministry of Finance has told The Royal Gazettepreviously that Belco can apply for relief on a cleaner fuel while an expert review of Belco by British-based consultant Ricardo Energy & Environment said ditching HFO permanently was the “most effective” mitigation.

The minutes continued: “Mr Caines added that the practice of switching fuels is not a good long-term strategy. It does have adverse consequences for plant operations, equipment, fuel purchasing and fuel storage.

“The chair [Davida Morris] said that it is important for the authority to be provided with the dates and times of fuel switching so that it can better fulfil its obligations under the Clean Air Act 1991.“

Wayne Caines, president of Belco and parent company Liberty (File photograph)

It was revealed that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which acts in an advisory capacity to the EA, “only recently” became aware that the procedure was not being adhered to.

The EA requested Belco report on a monthly basis the number of times weather conditions were favourable for the downdrafting of emissions towards the properties, the number of times that fuel switching occurred and its duration.

While Belco said that the requirement to report was “too onerous”, during the EA meeting of April 25 the authority said it would be a requirement.

It said: “Belco shall be asked to provide times of when fuel switching was performed, whether complaints are required before fuels are switched, what other requirements are necessary before fuel-switching will be performed and details of affected engines.”

Other potential abatement measures were discussed to reduce soot fallout as well as the emitting of chemicals such as sulphur dioxide which have been detected in high levels in proximity to the plant.

Mr Caines said that an extension of the flues — the chimneys within the main stack — to elevate emissions had not been investigated, but the EA said it wished to see evidence of the consideration.

It requested that Belco carry out air dispersion modelling to determine if an extension was viable.

It was agreed that an extension of the concrete stack itself was not an option given the foundations underneath it not being adequate.

In the April meeting, the EA requested that Belco provide details on all abatement options being considered, the timelines to implement them and feasibility studies. This request included the use of lower sulphur fuels.

Belco has told The Royal Gazette on numerous occasions it is considering all options but has not said whether any actions exploring cleaner fuel have been initiated.

The EA added that the use of electrostatic precipitators, a type of filter using magnetism to remove charged particles from a gas stream, would also be expected to be explored.

It added that the DENR had only heard about the potential for this abatement method "from the media“.

The Royal Gazette’s Clearing the Air investigation into Belco pollution revealed the news on March 5, having been provided with documents by way of a public access to information request.

The EA said: “The authority requests that more technical information on the goals and timescales of Belco to abate the soot be provided.”

The EA also implemented a deadline system whereby Belco must be given a timeline to address the problems being encountered.

It said: “It is noted that the problems include downdrafting of exhaust fumes, soot fallout and fuel/oil fumes along St John's Road.

“It is also noted that the timelines for achieving the required outcomes will be dependent on the type and extent of works necessary by Belco.

“Therefore, any deadline issued by the authority to Belco would need to first be agreed with Belco. Essentially, the authority stated that Belco should be told to fix the problems within an acceptable time frame rather than how to fix them.”

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Published June 27, 2023 at 7:59 am (Updated June 29, 2023 at 8:22 am)

Report shows Belco failed to use light fuel oil at critical times

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