Renewable Energy & Potential Sale of Ascendant Update
Minister Roban Press Conference Remarks: Renewable Energy & Potential Sale of Ascendant Update
During the recent election, there seemed to be a significant emphasis on renewable energy and a cleaner environment. I thought it important that I give our Bermuda public an update on our considerable work on implementing renewable energy and a cleaner environment. In the PLP Election Platform, the Premier talks of “a green revolution.” That revolution has already begun.
It is no coincidence that the colour GREEN that represents the Progressive Labour Party is also the colour that represents renewable energy and a greener environment. As the Minister responsible for the environment and the Regulatory Authority, renewable energy has always remained my priority. My efforts have included facilitating the local adoption of renewable energy producing infrastructure and related technologies, by businesses and residents alike. I am very proud of our efforts thus far and our plans for the future.
Last year the Regulatory Authority released the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) which outlines the framework for Bermuda’s energy requirements over the next 25 years. Within the first six years of the plan, the island is slated to add 21 megawatts (“MW”) of utility-scale solar photovoltaic, up to 30 MW of distributed generation e.g. residential and small scale solar, 60 MW of wind power via an offshore wind farm, while specific engines at the BELCO plant that are dependent on fossil fuels will be decommissioned. Biomass generation as another source of renewable energy is scheduled for deployment by 2028.
Our efforts are consistent with and support the IRP. Our successes thus far include the following initiatives:
The partnership with Saturn Power Incorporated for a solar farm on the ‘Finger’ at L.F. Wade International Airport was a first step to introducing commercial solar developments in line with the IRP and I can advise that, despite some COVID-19 related setbacks and other unforeseen challenges, this project should be tested and commissioned this month. The solar farm’s operation and maintenance contract will be held by a Bermudian company.
When I was the Minister of Transport and Regulatory Affairs, I entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) to make recommendations to reduce fossil fuel emissions and renewable energy. Pending projects with RMI include:
The electrification of the public bus fleet;
The electrification of the Public Works motor vehicle fleet;
Identifying sites for utility scale solar photovoltaic and the aggregation of solar photovoltaic on Government properties.
Last year, we implemented an LED bulb exchange programme, allowing members of the public to exchange up to ten incandescent light bulbs, at one time, for ten LED light bulbs free of charge. This was part of our efforts to educate the public and promote the benefits of changing from incandescent bulbs to LED. We have discussed with industry and the community the phasing out of the sale of incandescent light bulbs in Bermuda altogether.
In 2018, the Department of Energy implemented the solar rebate programme. The Solar Photovoltaic Rebate Initiative (SPRI) is available to any resident of Bermuda who wishes to install a solar photovoltaic generation system on a residential dwelling which they own – provided that the ARV is $120,000 or less. This rebate was launched on 11th October 2018. Thus far, this energy rebate programme has paid out more than 70 rebate claims since its inception.
As a reminder, homeowners with ARVs under $30,000 per annum could avail themselves of up to an $8,000 rebate, homeowners with ARVs between $30,000 and $65,000 could receive up to a $4,000 rebate and homeowners with ARVs between $65,000 and $120,000 could expect up to a $2,000 rebate. For this modest investment, we have close to half a megawatt of additional solar photovoltaic capacity on island.
We also have worked with the Minister of Finance to introduce customs duty exemptions for renewable energy products. Since October 1st 2018, parts for electric vehicle charging stations and accessories have been duty free, while electric vehicles themselves have been duty free since 2011/12. Electric vehicle batteries have been duty free since 2017.
Our efforts to move to renewable energy have galvanized most Departments within the Ministry of Home Affairs including the Department of Energy, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Department of Planning. We have a close partnership with the Regulator to progress these efforts.
“You will be aware that, in 2019, we entered into a memorandum of understanding with the WAITT Institute to preserve 20% of our 180,000 square miles exclusive economic zone (EEZ), while creating what is now referred to as the Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme (BOPP). The steering committee of BOPP includes a number of stakeholder groups including the aforementioned Ministry Departments, other Government Departments, stakeholders from the fishing industry, the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation, and many others. This programme looks at opportunities to increase the capacity and diversity of our commercial fishing industry and other marine projects including renewable energy.
A September 2020 report produced by the WAITT Institute and the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) for Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme (BOPP) presented to the Ministry proposed marine renewable energy solutions including wind, floating solar and wave technology. I was extremely impressed by the report and excited about our prospects regarding renewable energy located in our ocean.”
Our efforts also include the expedited approval by the Department of Planning in conjunction with the Department of Energy that is now in place for renewable energy projects, resulting in a more streamlined process.
The Scheme of Delegation, introduced in February 2020 is a ‘game changer’ in respect of allowing the Director of Planning to approve those solar photovoltaic applications which exceeded the scope of what could be approved under the current General Development Order (GDO) legislation. We have seen a significant number of proposals (requiring a full planning application) for solar panels that fall just outside of the parameters of what the GDO allows, hence the Department of Planning has made the point of expediting these applications and approving them by the Director. The Department has identified this as a primary reason to revise the GDO and is currently compiling a list of additional changes for the GDO to start taking the next steps for a legislative amendment.
Renewable energy is also a major consideration regarding the intended purchase of BELCO by Algonquin Power and Utilities Corporation. Paramount among my concerns is ensuring that customers would not be paying more for their electricity due to this potential acquisition and that any potential acquisition adheres to the IRP. I will speak further on this later.
While much has been achieved, there is much that is currently in progress now.
We will be introducing the “Competent Persons Scheme”. The Competent Persons Scheme will start with Solar Installers and existing companies in the first phase to become certified by meeting a set criteria and ‘trusted’ to carry out installations of solar panels without the regular planning inspection process. There will be checks and balances worked into the scheme to ensure compliance with building codes etc.
We recognise that as we move to more renewable energy initiatives, we will need to increase the number of qualified solar installers. As a result, we will be introducing a training programme to provide persons with the training to become solar installers and to be able to work to meeting the requirements to become “competent persons.”
The Department of Planning will also introduce, subject to legislative approval, decreases in application fees for planning applications and building permits associated with renewable energy.
I am also pleased to announce that the Department of Planning has approved a large solar array installation on the Pitts Bay Road headquarters of Bacardi Limited – consisting of 748 panels, covering an area of 13,478 sq. ft. – which will provide a capacity of 254.32 kW.
Other commercial projects – like one scheduled for Richmond Road – are expected to add more solar energy resources to Bermuda’s electricity grid.
These private sector projects will contribute to the realisation of the Regulatory Authority’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) – which outlines the strategy to deliver clean and continual sources of renewable energy, such as solar, wind and biomass.
Working with the Regulatory Authority (RA) we will be tabling legislation in the next sitting of the House to create a “regulatory sandbox” to encourage international investment to test new renewable technologies in Bermuda. We are already working with potential investors to provide support and locations to test their new technologies.
I will now talk briefly about the approval of the application submitted by Algonquin Power and Utilities Corp. (“Algonquin”) for transfer of ownership of the Ascendant Group Limited (“Ascendant”), specifically the Bermuda Electric Light Company Limited (“BELCO”). This was announced by Ascendant in the media yesterday.
Contrary to comments that I have read, the approval was given by the RA after I communicated approval of the transfer. However, I must stress that approval was not given until I was satisfied that the application met the requirements of my directions, which set the priority of the Purposes of the Electricity Act which are:
Protecting the end-users of electricity with respect to pricing and affordability, adequacy, safety and reliability;
Ensuring the adequacy, safety, and reliability of electricity;
Promoting the use of cleaner energy;
Providing non-discriminatory access to the grid;
Encouraging energy efficiency; and,
Promoting economic efficiency in the provision of electricity.
There was much back and forth with the RA until I was satisfied that the application and the conditions which formed part of the proposed licence were enough to meet my directions.
This represents a real opportunity with the eventual conclusion of the process of the change and control of Ascendant/BELCO for new leadership to take this company, our only utility company, in a positive sustainable direction.
I do not have to remind you of the turmoil in the last two years including serious industrial action; the dismissal of highly qualified and experienced Bermudians; a major disruption in power generation, and most recently the problems with air quality and the discharge from the North Station plant. At this juncture, I want to ensure the affected residents that the Regulatory Authority together with the Environmental Authority are obtaining an independent opinion regarding this issue which should lead to a solution.
The new North Station replacement generation plant was brought into operation with much optimism. The new installation was to allow old generation to be decommissioned and thus bringing modern efficient and cleaner generation in place. This unfortunately has not been the experience especially of the neighbors of BELCO. There have been a number of instances since the plant came online of discharge and air quality issues that have plagued the area around the plant. I have myself seen the results of these unacceptable occurrences. Neighbors are unhappy, frustrated and concerned about the damage to their properties, quality of their water and their overall environmental welfare. There has not been satisfaction with the response of BELCO to this situation. My colleagues who represent the area and residents have made this clear and action is demanded.
As stated earlier, the Government has commenced a process and will be perusing what additional environmental initiatives and steps the company can/will pursue to mitigate further discharge events. This will include scrubbers on the stacks, assisting property/homeowners with ensuring clean water is available and proactive steps to remediate property damage from discharges.
Public confidence in the community around BELCO right now is at a low. We also expect the new leadership going forward will want to do all that is possible to restore confidence in BELCO as a good corporate citizen. Algonquin is a company with substantial experience in renewable energy. It is our expectation they will bring that commitment to Bermuda. We will, over time, see the decommissioning of fossil fuel generation for both utility scale and distributive clean generation island-wide going forward. The Government is committed to a Green Revolution and we know that BELCO will be a partner in achieving this.
Finally, I want to gather feedback from the public, especially our young people, who have ideas about Bermuda’s energy future, regarding efficiency and sustainability. Together we will reduce our fossil fuel footprint.