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Clean Air Coalition demands transparency on Belco station

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Power talk: An action group has called for complete transparency around emissions from the Belco power plant. (File photograph

An activist group has called for “complete transparency” from Belco, and for the utility firm to work with the Regulatory Authority and the Government to solve the ongoing problems surrounding pollution.

The call comes as Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, distanced himself from a dispute between Belco and the RA about the intended use of the North Power Station over which the regulator threatened the utility firm with legal action.

It also comes after Belco issued a statement at the request of the RA confirming it had told the regulator in 2017 the NPS would consist of dual-fuel engines that will burn fuel oil.

Wayne Caines, the company’s president, said later it was developed to operate on natural gas as the primary fuel source and that using heavy fuel oil instead, in response to the recommendations of the RA’s Integrated Resource Plan, led to challenges such as soot fallout.

A spokesman for the Bermuda Clean Air Coalition which represents residents, business leaders and schools affected by pollution from Belco, said: “BCAC is calling for complete transparency from Belco.

“The community-led group wants to see the RA and Government and Belco come together and work to solve these pollution problems.

“They have to come up with solutions both in the short term and the long term for the good of the people of Bermuda. There are a lot of different types of pollutions coming from Belco and it is impacting all of Bermuda.”

The Bermuda Clean Air Coalition is looking inform the public about the ongoing issues facing the island due to pollution and damage from the North Power Station. (Photograph Supplied by Bermuda Clean Air Coalition)

The spokesman referenced a 2021 report by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources on Belco’s progress.

It found that a mobile air monitoring station on Ocean Lane, Pembroke detected 55 exceedances of the UK/EU Air Quality Objective ‘Target Level’ for 15-minute sulphur dioxide exposure.

He said: “That’s more than one exceedance per week just for sulphur dioxide and this station was located in a small narrow band one kilometre away from Belco. What is happening in the other 359 degree arc around Belco’s perimeter when the winds blow from different directions?”

Mr Roban said of the row: “I will leave that to the regulator and the utility to work it out. I believe that the utility believe they were making a case for a certain chain of events and the regulator has taken issue with that.

“Ultimately an article ran today that the utility has perhaps decided to reconsider their opinion. It’s not a matter for the Government to get involved in directly.”

Mr Roban was questioned about the responsibilities he has under his portfolio. He responded: “I’m the minister responsible for regulatory affairs but I am not in charge of the RA – the RA sits independently legislated.

“I play a particular role in the legislation, in being able to give them direction at certain times and on certain matters.

“They are responsible to myself as minister but I do not run the RA. I have not have any in-depth discussions [with the RA] at all.”

The RA’s chief executive Denton Williams announced this week that he has resigned from his position.

In a statement yesterday, the regulator said: “The RA is satisfied that Belco fulfilled the requirements of the RA’s ‘Caution’, which was to correct its misleading public statements regarding the approval of the North Power Station.”

Mr Roban also backed Wayne Caines, president of Belco and sitting Progressive Labour Party MP, adding: “MP Caines has carried himself in the professional and proper way with all his affairs in relation to the Government and his profession.

“I respect the role that MP Caines has outside Parliament. I have no concern about this at all.”

Asked whether Mr Caines’ position at Belco conflicted with his position within the Government, Mr Roban said: “Not from my standpoint.”

BCAC’s spokesman referenced the World Health Organisation’s New Global Air Quality Guidelines which reports that “every year, exposure to air pollution is estimated to cause seven million premature deaths” globally.

The spokesman added: “The Bermuda Government took dramatic steps during the recent pandemic to protect lives. The WHO says air pollution is one of the biggest environmental threats to human health.

“If air pollution is more dangerous and is killing more people around the world than Covid, we expect a greater response from the Bermuda Government to this problem. We have heard nothing yet from the Ministry of Health.

“We would like to see the Government doing more to monitor for air and water pollution coming from Belco. Instead, we note the recently defunded BIOS air monitoring equipment.”

Mr Roban said the defunding was unrelated to the utility company saying: “None of the testing which I would argue is of most concern to people at the utility has been stopped or discontinued.”

He said the work being done to update the Clean Air Act seeks to ensure “there will be higher standards that will have to be adhered to”.

“This is not a situation that unique to the role of utilities and companies of this size,” he added. “Liberty, [the regulated services group of Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp, the Canadian company that purchased Belco’s former parent company Ascendant in November 2020] the principal owner of Belco, operates in other jurisdictions and I’m sure they have to abide by very strict regulatory requirements. I’m sure they understand that.”

Liberty declined to comment and Algonquin did not respond to questions by press time.

The Environmental Authority, which regulates emissions in Bermuda, did not respond to questions by press time.

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Published August 26, 2022 at 7:56 am (Updated August 26, 2022 at 7:56 am)

Clean Air Coalition demands transparency on Belco station

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