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Belco’s only wind concession is hot air

I was interested to read recent exchanges between Bermudian supporters of renewable energy who identified the availability of wind data from various sources.

I share a real concern at the talk of the Regulatory Authority of Bermuda finalising the integrated resource plan next month after a request for Belco to provide more emphasis on renewables, which we know will be a feeble and token effort.

This concern is particularly valid in conjunction with the RA making totally unacceptable statements that large-scale, offshore wind-farm proposals will have to be excluded from the IRP at this time because of lack of wind-monitoring data at the proposed offshore site/s.

Belco has been totally remiss over the past 19 years in not carrying out the obvious task of pursuing the need to obtain the above additional wind data at proposed sites.

It is absolutely correct that wind data can be extrapolated from available onshore sites. In June 2000, I organised a workshop on “Renewables and Alternative Energy Technologies” while working for Belco as Senior Manager, Engineering and Planning.

This event was held in liaison with the Department of Environmental Protection, with papers and attendance by numerous members of the Caribbean Electric Utility Services Corporation, with the Premier also attending.

My department presented a joint paper entitled The Challenge of Wind Power for Bermuda. Our team included Francis P. Bowles, of the Bermuda Biological Station, in liaison with his US partners. The paper incorporated a year assessment of wind data, with sets obtained from the Bermuda airport, Bermuda weather balloons, the Harbour Radio site, BSSR North Rock Station (offshore), Belco air-quality stations and an 80m Rohn tower on the southern coast of Bermuda.

This paper is included in the formally presented Proceedings document. The conclusions were promising, but recognised that follow-up engineering studies were required.

I am very critical of Ascendant/Belco for ignoring not only this work carried out in 2000, but also all subsequent data that became available, together with published data on the significant improvements to wind generators by way of both efficiency and cost.

Ascendant/Belco was totally out of order when it commenced on the preparation of the IRP back in 2013, with the incredible and totally unjustified statement that it would demonstrate liquefied natural gas as the favoured choice. It ignored the formal Electricity Act 2016 requirements that stated the IRP should examine all energy sources, and immediately dismissed offshore wind generation owing to lack of offshore wind data.

This fixation on LNG is stated in its annual reports, together with published information that it spent several million dollars on the report preparation — mostly on a “packaging exercise” by a tame consultant paid to try to make a case for LNG.

I would strongly argue that while its IRP claims erroneously to make a case for LNG, there is equally a very challenging set of studies and investigations yet to be carried out to determine if LNG is feasible or possible. These would include exclusion zone space availability from regasification plant and other exacting safety and planning requirements.

There is at least as much available data on extrapolated wind conditions as there is on the totally provisional/indicative LNG data that Ascendant/Belco is prepared to proceed on.

Before committing to any decisions on Bermuda's energy future in an IRP, it would be remiss not to revisit the formal 2011 Bermuda Energy White Paper. This government paper was carefully developed, based on all available study data, and set targets that included:

• Reducing energy consumption 20 per cent below 2008 levels by 2020

• Establishing 35MW offshore wind by 2020

• Establishing 12MW utility scale solar PV by 2020

• Establishing 20MW rooftop solar PV by 2020

The feedback on this document was very positive, and the following extract was quoted in its summary of responses: “The publication of the Energy Green Paper was welcomed by most respondents who generally acknowledged and appreciated the Government's efforts in developing Bermuda's first consultation document on energy policy. There was a strong consensus that the Energy White Paper should be comprehensive, action-oriented and account for local circumstances unique to Bermuda.

“There was general agreement that the energy policy should prioritise the security, reliability and sustainability of electricity supply. Policies that promote the responsible adoption of alternative and renewable energy technologies, and the competitive viability of independent power producers, were encouraged.”

It is evident that the Regulatory Authority's invitation to provide feedback on the IRP attracted a big number of responses, demonstrating that the public were keen to participate in the vitally important issue of their energy future.

It can be no coincidence that the Belco IRP proposal to make a transition to LNG-sourced fuel received widespread criticism, while the “Etude” alternative IRP proposal, which focused on the ambitious development of renewable energy sources, received widespread support.

This feedback survey result affirms that the public favour a plan similar to the aforementioned 2011 White Paper, which was identified as the best way forward until the totally unjustified LNG distraction was allowed to intervene.

I conclude by suggesting that the RA should be encouraged to reconsider its approach and avoid early commitment to any statement on finalising the IRP soon, and certainly without the vital step of further consultation with the public.

Belco should be required to immediately undertake the outstanding and necessary offshore wind studies and meanwhile demonstrate a genuine intent on renewables and energy-efficiency measures while retaining conventional oil-fired diesel/gas turbines in the interim period.

It is also imperative that all information on any takeover offers is shared and factored into decisions in a transparent manner.

Bill Jewell, a chartered engineer, is a retired former Senior Manager, Engineering and Planning, at Belco. The former international consultant held the position for 11 years, with the final two spent developing renewable, and new technology and business opportunities

Bill Jewell

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Published May 07, 2019 at 9:00 am (Updated May 07, 2019 at 8:26 am)

Belco’s only wind concession is hot air

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