This is solely Belco’s mess ‒ but here is a solution
I would like to give another point of view on the ongoing situation at Belco.
Scott Pearman’s attempt in The Royal Gazette on August 12, 2022 to paint the situation with the “fallout” near Belco as being a government responsibility is a step too far.
I watched the Integrated Resource Plan process closely, and Belco’s attempt to paint the rejection of its natural gas fuelling option as a surprise and as somehow being responsible for this situation is — pardon the pun — just them blowing smoke. Belco is not Belco; it is really a small part of Algonquin. Algonquin’s agenda is very much about gas in almost every system it owns. The idea that this gambit was somehow in the interest of Bermuda was false. Had it invested in the switchover to LNG, it would have had yet another big expense to amortise at the cost of Bermudian customers. Safely protected by the fuel adjustment surcharge, any future increase in LNG costs would be of no concern to the company. Any increase in LNG prices or transport costs simply would be passed on. It is entirely possible that Belco would actually be buying that gas from an Algonquin-related entity.
The RA correctly decided not to approve this.
That gas fuel investment can now be made in other carbon-free generation systems and allow us to reduce future costs as well as emissions much sooner than had we gone to gas.
This was the right thing to do.
At a technical level, that its new stack is a few hundred feet upwind of white roofs used for collecting drinking water is no surprise to Belco. The issues it is now having were clearly predictable, and have been so since long before the North Power Station expansion was even planned. The decision to install the new engines configured as “optimised” for burning gas was a mistake on Belco’s part alone. If the machines cannot now be modified to burn fuel oil — as intended — without causing the fallout issues, that is on Belco entirely; it cannot be put at the feet of the Regulatory Authority or the Government.
By the way, it is easy to forget that Belco had options other than Cemetery Road for the location of the new plant. There were options at the location of the US Air Force/Navy power station in St George’s and also at Morgan's Point. Given the prevailing winds, either of these would have had far fewer issues with “fallout”. Choosing instead to locate this plant upwind of some of the highest-density residential areas on the island was something Belco decided to do in spite of the options. The only control that the government of the day had was at the Department of Planning level and it chose then not to “just say no” — yet another advanced planning failure, but not on this government’s part. Once that happened, the die was cast.
If Belco cannot fix this problem at the level of the engines or by treating the exhaust stream, it will have to do whatever it takes. In the extreme, it would seem to me that the “brute force” solution would be to connect all the residences affected to an external potable-water supply system and stop them collecting domestic-use water from their roofs at all. Belco would own and operate the water system that would supply water to the residences’ tanks. There would be no charge to the users for the system or hook-up. Usage would be free up to an agreed number of gallons per month, after which users would be charged at the same rate as if they were buying trucked water. Belco would continue to be responsible for cosmetic painting of the houses and their roofs and walls, and any other damages caused to cars, etc.
Whether this can be done through the RA via Belco’s operating licence or rather should be treated as a separate legislative project is something for the Government to decide. It would seem to me that the RA route would be preferable; we have enough laws and regulations already — let’s just solve the problem.