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We apologise and will do better

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Wayne Caines, president of Belco

As Bermuda’s sole provider of electricity, we at Belco take our responsibility to the community seriously — not only in terms of providing safe, reliable power, but also to take every measure possible to minimise the impacts of our operations on our environment and community.

It was unfortunate that we recently experienced an unexpected incident on July 11 after the restarting of an engine at the North Power Station, which resulted in soot impacting neighbouring properties, mainly in the St John’s Road area.

Belco’s Occupational Health, Safety and Environment team immediately launched an investigation into the incident and visited homes and businesses near to the plant to collect samples and ascertain the extent of the fallout event.

Unintended consequences: the build-up of rust and soot from a Belco emission left this mess on the roof of a St John’s Road resident

Belco took full responsibility for the fallout event and is addressing the incident as a priority. OHSE team members will continue to engage owners of affected properties until all impacts from the fallout have been fully addressed according to remediation best practices.

In light of the recent fallout incident, it is important to outline several facts concerning air quality around the Belco plant. This year Belco has continually demonstrated compliance to the Clean Air Act and Regulations, recorded at the two existing ambient air-quality measuring sites in Pembroke.

Results on nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter are well below contractual obligations as outlined in Belco’s operating licence. Operation and maintenance of the two Belco ambient air-quality measuring sites are overseen by Belco with analysis presented to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Environmental Authority.

Belco’s OHSE team constantly monitors effects of our plant on the adjacent neighbourhood and across Bermuda and works closely with DENR to ensure emissions are within required regulatory limits.

Belco reports on various certifications and compliance and meets the highest international standard for its environmental management system according to ISO 14001 Certification. Belco also complies with the Clean Air Act 1991 and Regulations 1993. Each quarter, Belco reports data from all air-quality monitoring programmes to the Environmental Authority and this data is available to the public. The Government has indicated a desire to enhance environmental emissions regulations and we welcome this change and look forward to it extending to other sources of atmospheric pollution from vehicles. We have always met legislated standards and will continue to do so.

Concerning water quality, pollutants associated with soot from Belco and other combustion processes are not present above any of the applicable drinking-water standards for the United States, Britain and World Health Organisation in any of the water samples taken.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ own study on water quality using samples from neighbouring properties’ water tanks published in March 2021, found trace levels of pollution — but at levels were well within international standards for drinking water.

The tests also sampled water tank sediment and found dioxins and furans, which are pollutants created by combustion engines. However, the sediment found in tanks near Belco was similar to that found in control samples taken from elsewhere on the island. The report said: “This indicates that Belco emissions are not the primary source of dioxins and furans in the sediments that collected in water tanks close to Belco.”

The report concluded that the fingerprint of the pollutants found in tanks was similar to that produced by vehicle exhaust. The report added: “This suggests that soot particles from road vehicles in Bermuda are the predominant source of dioxins and furans in the sediments of water tanks collected for this study.”

The only parameters that failed drinking-water standards in the tests were total coliforms and E. coli bacteria levels in some of the tanks sampled, which is an indicator of animal-waste contamination.

Since the commissioning of the North Power Station in April 2020, Belco has executed a phased approach to increase combustion pressure in order to address the fallout occurrences from the NPS.

Phase 1 involved the installation of shims on the four NPS engines, and this project is 100 per cent complete. Phase 2 included the retrofitting of the piston crowns to optimise them for our fuel type, with this work completed on all four engines by the end of January. These are near-term fixes and since these upgrades have been made, the efficiency of the plant has demonstrably improved. In the long term, we plan to continue the greening of our fleet and include offshore wind as a substantial component of our energy mix.

During the past few years, Belco has engaged the local community many times through town hall meetings, direct meetings with property owners, letters, online forums and more, and we have made a commitment to the neighbouring community to address the impacts to their properties and will continue to monitor and adjust operations until the plant is running at optimum efficiency.

The Belco team is also committed to addressing complaints concerning impacts to property through roof painting and water filtration systems on a case-by-case basis. Where it is evident that a property has been impacted by Belco operations, mitigation measures will be handled in accordance with standing policies and procedures.

Belco is committed to and working towards achieving net zero (greenhouse gas emssions) by 2050, and is exploring alternative and renewable-energy generation through the use of wind, solar and the possible transition from heavy-fuel oil to natural gas.

When planning for the North Power Station, the intention was to use natural gas as a fuel, but the integrated resource plan process eliminated natural gas as a fuel source. Belco looks forward to resuming dialogue and engagement with the community as we continue to build a clean, safe and renewable-energy future for Bermuda.

And we do have a plan. We are committed to becoming a renewable power company — but this is going to take time and investment. Hundreds of millions of dollars of investment. And we are working on a plan to do this without raising rates for electricity that puts a further burden on our customers.

In all the places I have worked, I have never come across a team with such professionalism, dedication, expertise and passion in my career. Working as part of the Belco family is to know it.

My plea to Bermuda and our valued customers is to have patience. The 250 workers at Belco come to work every day with two overriding goals: to improve the community in which we operate, and to provide safe, reliable power.

Since commissioning the North Power Station we are aware of the operational impact that has been felt by our neighbours, but we always have and will continue to take responsibility and fix the issues that we cause. And we always aim to do better. We will get to a renewable-energy future and we need everyone to be a stakeholder and partner in our journey.

I would like to sincerely apologise for the unfortunate fallout incident that occurred recently and the impacts that our plant operations have had on our neighbours. We will do everything possible to mitigate and fix the impacts from the incident and I can assure the public that we are working diligently to improve the efficiency and operations of our plant to minimise impacts as we plan for and work towards a sustainable and clean-energy future.

• Wayne Caines is the president of Belco

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Published July 26, 2022 at 7:49 am (Updated July 26, 2022 at 7:49 am)

We apologise and will do better

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