Belco progress report: we are getting there
At Belco, our entire team care about the challenges our neighbours have faced since the commissioning of the North Power Station. Our staff are also a part of this community — they live and work here, and we have built relationships with our neighbours over the years.
Our Occupational Health, Safety and Environment team meet and communicate with our neighbours regularly, which allows us to gain a better understanding of the impact our operations may have on their properties. We work hard to ensure that our relationship allows for them to express any concerns directly, openly and honestly — and we take reports of impacts on their lives and property extremely seriously.
We have been working to eradicate the fallout issues that have been experienced by our neighbours since the commissioning of the NPS and we are taking a systematic and calculated approach to resolving the issues.
While there has been some recent reporting on water and air quality, I would like to provide some detail concerning recent analyses carried out by independent, third-party experts.
We recently received a report by the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences that reported on the chemical water quality in rainwater-harvested water tanks that was assessed at 17 residential properties in Pembroke, two government offices and a government water depot in November 2022 in accordance with the requirements of Belco’s operating licence.
Sample locations were determined by input from Belco and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in response to concerns from area residents over the potential for drinking-water contamination. Following preliminary results from the analytical laboratory that identified potential poor water quality at one residential location, a second round of sampling of nearby properties was undertaken in February 2023.
Water samples were analysed for total dissolved solids, total suspended solids, pH, a suite of 31 metals, and a suite of 21 polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons — also called polyaromatic hydrocarbons. The results were compared with the primary and secondary drinking-water quality standards set by Bermuda and the United States. The secondary drinking-water quality standard for aluminium was exceeded at three locations. The water at one of these locations also exceeded the secondary drinking-water quality standards for iron and for manganese. Secondary drinking-water quality standards can impact the aesthetic and cosmetic qualities — ie, appearance, odour and taste — of the water.
The study demonstrated that no other primary or secondary drinking-water quality standards were exceeded. The analysis of a nearby residence to the location initially showing the exceedances of three secondary drinking-water quality standards showed that the tank water was compliant with respect to all drinking-water quality standards —primary and secondary.
The report highlighted that high concentrations of aluminium may arise from soil present in the water tank — aluminium is present at high concentrations in local soil — or from the corrosion of aluminium fittings located in or close to the roof-tank system. In addition, the high concentrations of iron in tank water may be attributed to several environmental factors, including dissolution of rust particles, corrosion of plumbing, pipes or other fixtures, or input from local soil that has a high iron content.
Ambient air quality
To monitor ambient air quality, we have two active ambient air-quality monitoring stations — BDA 1 is located on Cemetery Lane and BDA 2 is located on Langton Hill. We also monitor meteorological data and atmospheric conditions at BDA 3, located on Belco’s main campus at the gas turbine complex and via our meteorological tower located at our BDA 1 site. We also have a portable monitoring station (BDA 4) where we are identifying suitable, potential siting locations in conjunction with the DENR. This station was removed from Ocean Lane at the request of the homeowner in June 2022. To date, Belco is compliant with all standards set by the Bermuda Clean Air Act 1991 and Bermuda Clean Air Regulations 1993.
Our existing operational protocols to mitigate soot impacts on area residents includes limiting combustion causing soot build-up by starting the NPS engines on light fuel oil. We have also made adjustments to remove moisture from the combustion process. This has resulted in a reduction of particulate matter during start-up, which lessens the impact on area residents. In addition, we assess wind conditions before engine start-up, which has also mitigated impacts and reduced complaints reported by area residents. While starting engines based on favourable winds is not always possible owing to a need to meet customer demand, we always try to take meteorological conditions into consideration when starting engines.
Operational investigations began in June 2020, after the NPS exhaust stack was emitting significant soot and particulate matter into the atmosphere that were large enough to fall on to the neighbouring community. Our investigations indicated we were challenged by improper combustion associated with the starting of the engines. The unburnt fuel was forming black flakes that were being emitted. Various hypotheses were discussed between Belco, the builder of the NPS and the engine manufacturer. All parties are working together to present remedial actions in a phased approach, with the aim to address the low compression and combustion pressures associated with the engines, while continuing providing reliable power to the island.
To reduce soot fallout in 2021, work was done to install shims and change piston crowns on all four NPS engines. These updates resulted in great improvements as we stopped seeing the large flakes of soot. However, we were still seeing smaller particulate matters not getting burnt through the process.
Our next focus is on optimising engine start-up procedures and changes to the governor settings of the NPS engines. The aim is to reduce the amount of fuel injected during start-up to reduce soot build-up in engines over time, thus resulting in less soot fallout from the NPS exhaust stack.
The team will also work to install dryer skids to remove moisture from the combustion process with the goal being to further reduce soot fallout from the NPS exhaust stack.
In addition, the evaluation of secondary abatement options continues with ongoing focus on primary abatement at the source.
As the entire country depends on us for a reliable source of power, we cannot make changes to our operations in an uncontrolled way. Once we became aware there were fallout issues occurring, we had to investigate the root cause. After a detailed investigation, we were presented with possible remedies. We then began the methodical approach of implementing one remedy at a time to establish a new baseline to assess and measure how successful the improvements were to resolve the fallout issues.
We will continue running through all possible solutions that have been identified — no matter how many steps it takes — to ensure that the issue is eradicated at the source. But each step takes time. It is also imperative to note that we must take a systematic approach to protect the island’s reliable electricity supply.
In addition to the dialogue we have with our neighbours, we also have a team of experts who are dedicated to taking a proactive approach to monitoring the environmental impacts of our operations in order to identify any possible issues. We also work with trusted third-party experts to ensure that our team’s findings, data, testing and monitoring methods are following best practices. This is important because our remedies for any issue must be guided by scientific data.
We care about the impact that our operations have on our neighbours, so we take every measure to abide by local legislation on air and water-quality standards, while also measuring ourselves against international standards. To date, we have met the standards we are held to and are supportive of the Government’s initiative to update legislation and implement more stringent local standards to match international standards. Despite meeting local standards, we still recognise and understand that the impacts to our neighbours’ properties are significant and visually alarming, so we are committed to the process of mitigating and resolving these issues.
Please rest assured that our neighbours’ concerns are our concerns. We take them seriously and we will continue to share information, to communicate and to listen.
I want to thank our neighbours and the community for their patience while we work continuously to improve our operations and reduce our impacts. We will continue to listen, to learn and to work towards meaningful solutions. If you feel that you have been impacted by our operations, we encourage you to reach out to us directly by visiting our website at belco.bm, where we will also post more detailed information on air and water-quality testing.
• Wayne Caines is the president of Belco and parent company Liberty
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