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Regulator threatens Belco with legal action as row over emissions intensifies

The Regulatory Authority is threatening to take legal action against Belco. (File photograph)

The Regulatory Authority is considering taking legal action against electricity supplier Belco over an ongoing dispute concerning soot emissions.

And last night a pressure group representing area residents affected by the fallout said it hoped the increasingly heated controversy would serve to highlight more “accountability, responsibility and transparency” on the part of the energy giant.

Residents near Belco’s North Power Station have been complaining for months about pollution and bad smells coming from the newly installed plant.

The war of words between the island’s sole electricity supplier and the regulator heated up last week when the RA accused Belco of being “deliberately misleading” about the cause of the emissions.

Belco president Wayne Caines hit back, denying any wrongdoing. He said: “We never had any intention to mislead the public and do not believe we did.”

Yesterday, the RA released a statement in response to that claim, saying that legal action may now be taken.

A spokeswoman for the authority said: “Further to the RA’s statement last week cautioning Belco about purposefully misleading the public about the North Power Station, to date, Belco has not made any attempt to correct the public record.

“As a result, the RA is now considering all legal and regulatory options relating to Belco’s statements, including, but not limited to, enforcement action, civil proceedings and publishing relevant materials to support its position.

“As the RA considers its options, and reserves its rights in this matter, no further statements shall be made until a final position is taken.”

The plant, which came into operation in the spring of 2020, has prompted a raft of complaints from Pembroke residents who have now formed a pressure group – the Bermuda Clean Air Coalition.

The group held a meeting last night to discuss the latest developments.

Following that meeting, a BCAC spokeswoman told The Royal Gazette: “The BCAC is focused on finding solutions to Belco’s persistent pollution problems.

“Belco’s pollution negatively impacts the health and wellbeing of all Bermudians, not just those considered in the immediate fallout zones.

“The BCAC welcomes the dialogue that is currently taking place between the RA and Belco because it highlights the importance of accountability and helps to shine a spotlight on the nuisances being experienced by the surrounding community every day.

“We hope this situation between the RA and Belco results in a greater engagement of Government and the RA on the bigger Belco issue of pollution, and prompts responsible reporting of data and transparency on the negative impact of burning crude oil in a densely populated area using highly unsuitable technology and poorly-considered equipment which is not fit for purpose.

“Enough is enough.”

According to the RA, Belco claimed in 2017 that a new station was necessary, and proposed that it be a dual-fuel model capable of using oil or liquefied natural gas.

Last week an RA spokeswoman said: “Belco suggested that oil would be deployed in the first instance and if at some point in the future the country decided to go towards LNG, the plant could then be readily updated to switch to the LNG.

“Yet, after receiving permission from the RA, 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.

“However, when the RA conducted several public consultations on the Integrated Resource Plan proposal, which Belco created, and several alternative generation proposals from the public, there was little support for LNG.”

The Government has so far stayed out of the controversy, although last month Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, said that Belco – along with the Environmental Authority – needed to take “urgent action … to ensure that the volume of soot entering the environment is addressed”.

Belco did not respond to requests for comment by press time last night.

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Published August 19, 2022 at 8:10 am (Updated August 19, 2022 at 8:10 am)

Regulator threatens Belco with legal action as row over emissions intensifies

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