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Bear with us as we approach optimal NPS efficiency ‒ we are getting there

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As the most recent and final fossil-fuelled power plant ever to be built in Bermuda, Belco’s North Power Station has presented some unforeseen challenges for those residing in the surrounding area.

The NPS entered the planning phase almost two decades ago to bridge the gap between our fossil-fuelled past and our sustainable-energy future. While other generating assets are still employed, since being commissioned in April 2020, the NPS has and continues to produce Bermuda’s baseload of electricity with an installed capacity of 56 megawatts.

One of the most relevant advantages of the NPS in the present fuel crisis being experienced globally are the engines it houses. These engines are far more energy-efficient than their predecessors, which means that they require less fuel to generate the same amount of power, ensuring both economic and environmental benefits. Additionally, the NPS has worked in tandem with our award-winning Battery Energy Storage System to assist in progressing our Net Zero 2050 plan. There are now only eight engines and four turbines to meet Bermuda’s energy demands. Fewer engines also means we are able to reduce the accompanying smokestacks being removed in the existing Asset Retirement Project.

Wayne Caines is the president of Belco

Since the NPS was originally intended to be a bridge between where we have been (fossil fuels) and where we are planning to go (renewable energy), it was developed to operate on natural gas as the primary fuel source. While natural gas is still a fossil fuel, it is a much cleaner burning fossil fuel that has been used as a bridge mechanism globally. Evidence supports that it would have eradicated any fallout issues and resulted in fewer carbon emissions. While heavy fuel oil was intended to be a back-up fuel, it has been used as the primary fuel source since the commissioning, as the Regulatory Authority’s 2019 Integrated Resource Plan did not prefer natural gas as a fuel option. Contrary to the legislative process, the RA published its own version of an IRP, which did not select a scenario that included natural gas.

Belco’s North Power Station has been in the news for the wrong reasons (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

This change in primary fuel source led to unforeseen challenges that began in June 2020, with our area residents reporting their experiences with daily soot-fallout issues and daily fuel odours that were becoming untenable. Through consulting with our neighbours, the manufacturer, and methodically assessing our equipment and operations, we were able to ascertain that the fallout issues were a direct result of the combustion pressure of the engines being optimised for natural gas as the primary fuel. We immediately began work on developing and implementing solutions to increase the combustion efficiency through an increase in combustion operating pressures. We took a careful and intentional phased approach, which thus far has resulted in the following:

Phase 1:

The first solution developed to address the fallout incidents was the installation of shims on all four engines at the NPS. The project commenced in October 2020 and was completed in June 2021. During this nine-month period, the parts were designed, manufactured and shipped to Bermuda. Our bulk generation team had to plan the timing of installation on each engine, based on Bermuda’s demand requirements, as we must always provide a reliable power supply while working towards optimal efficiency.

Once the project was complete, the effectiveness of the changes was measured over time. We are proud to report that the changes improved combustion pressure by 11 per cent. While this did not bring us to optimal efficiency, it substantially closed the gap between where we were and where we need to be.

Odour mitigation:

While developing solutions to address fallout, the issue of odours emanating from our fuel and lube storage tanks was assessed. In May 2021, we commenced work on procuring and installing customised carbon filters. This project was completed in December 2021 and resulted in the reduction of complaints owing to severely unpleasant odours.

Phase 2:

The second phase developed to address the fallout incidents was the installation of new piston crowns on all four engines at the NPS. The project commenced in February 2021 and was completed in January of this year. During this 11-month period, the parts were designed, manufactured and shipped to Bermuda. Our bulk generation team again methodically planned and carried out the installations without interrupting the supply of power to the island.

Upon completion, we monitored and measured performance to determine the project’s success. We are again pleased to share that this phase resulted in a further 10 per cent improvement in combustion pressure — further closing the gap between where we were and where we need to be.

Future phases:

In June, we made more fine adjustments to increase operational efficiency of the NPS engines. The impacts felt by our neighbours are now isolated incidents based on anomalies and not our day-to-day operations. We are proud of this progress, but can assure you that we will not stop until we reach 100 per cent optimisation, which requires a further improvement. Our team of highly skilled engineers are investigating and assessing further measures to increase combustion pressures to eradicate the small gap remaining between us and complete optimisation.

July fallout Incident:

Our neighbours, experienced an isolated and immense incident of fallout. This was a direct result of our team putting an engine back into service that had been offline for 26 days after receiving routine maintenance. Regular maintenance is a requirement to ensure the NPS is operating as efficiently as possible. We take full responsibility for the negative impact experienced by our neighbours and we will not rest until even these isolated incidents are entirely rectified.

It is important to note that Belco employs a dedicated Occupational Safety, Health and Environment team that ensures we are not only compliant with local regulations set by government legislation and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, but that we also strive for compliance with international standards (Britain) that are often more stringent in relation to local ambient air quality and emissions standards. Our team monitor the impact of our operations regularly with readings, measurements and samples, reporting all findings to the DENR, which makes the results available to the public. Belco remains and will continue to remain compliant with all licensing requirements for reporting.

Since the commissioning of the North Power Station, Belco has communicated with neighbours through telephone, e-mail, house visits, town halls, meetings, radio, local news, social media, letters and more. We are committed to maintaining this dialogue with area residents and the wider community. We encourage those who experience any negative impacts to their property or vehicles as result of our operations to contact our OHSE team directly via e-mail (ohse@belco.bm), as our commitment to mitigating damage caused by our operations is resolute. We will not rest until the impacts are fully mitigated.

Belco is committed to progressing our Net Zero 2050 plan and is exploring alternative and renewable-energy generation through the use of wind, solar and carbon offsetting, while keeping a close eye on renewable technologies that look promising in the future. In the meantime, we must maintain a reliable supply of electricity to Bermuda. This supply is provided by the North Power Station, which has the additional benefit of moving us closer to our sustainable-energy future. While the NPS has presented unforeseen challenges, we have been diligently working on reducing the impacts and have been successful in our efforts thus far. We are committed to transparency and look forward to the continued engagement and communication with our neighbours, our community and all of our stakeholders as we continue to build a clean, safe and renewable energy future for Bermuda.

• Wayne Caines is the president of Belco

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Published August 13, 2022 at 8:00 am (Updated August 12, 2022 at 11:25 am)

Bear with us as we approach optimal NPS efficiency ‒ we are getting there

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