Home Affairs Minister Walter Roban informed MPs today that Government has placed conditions on any sale of power by Belco by way of the Regulatory Authority, that will require any new owners to adhere to the Integrated Resource Plan – a work in progress and currently under development.

In a Ministerial Statement delivered this morning, Minister Roban said: “Any prospective buyer would have taken note of the events of October 2018, where plant workers were poised and ready to put their feet on the street in support of their Bermudian colleagues were abruptly dismissed.”

Would-be buyers are expected to be “transparent, inclusive and collaborative”.

“Matters of national importance, once debated behind the closed doors on Serpentine Road, are decided through open discourse across all strata of our society,” the Minister added.

“It is our mission, together with the Regulatory Authority, to ensure that the result will be a better Belco for a better Bermuda.”

He also noted that the Government looks forward to “increased use of renewables and a fairer electric utility” and that the public “will soon hear more about developments in the electronic communications area, in particular the integrated communications licences”.

Expanding on Government’s ‘Policy Directions regarding the sale of Belco’, the Minister also recalled the Ascendant Groups announcement in January, “that in its examination of strategic alternatives for its future”, Belco’s parent company was considering the sale of the group.

“This news is a once-in-a-generation moment, where we can either simply witness events unfold, or galvanize our position on what is best for Bermuda and continue to drive positive change in this essential public utility,” said Mr Roban.

Renewable Energy Sources

“Built into Bermuda’s legislation is the requirement that the regulator and the government, which oversee the utilities, only agree to that change in control if that change provides benefits to all stakeholders, not just the shareholders. Among those things normally considered regarding changes in control or ownership are the nationality of the prospective buyers, their financial stability, and fitness to engage in the business of providing a national electrical service.”

Under section 8 of the Electricity Act 2016 [the Act] and section 9, he said the Act allows the Minister  “in formulating Ministerial Directions, to set priorities in a way that, in my opinion will best serve the public interest, taking into account Government policy, the purposes of the Act, any public comments and any available technical analysis”.

Outlining the policy directions given to the Regulatory Authority, the Minister said Government “must ensure that a stable energy platform is maintained”.

“Our stable electrical supply and grid have played a part in establishing Bermuda’s ‘elite’ reputation among all other island jurisdictions in the region,” said Mr Roban.

“Safety is paramount as well, again, setting Bermuda quite apart from others in the region. This piece cannot be under-emphasized in an environment where cost and quality are almost entirely proportional in that where electricity is inexpensive in our region, it is usually also not nearly as reliable and safe as that in Bermuda; (b) to encourage electricity conservation and the efficient use of electricity.”

Historically the Minister said energy conservation is something “Bermuda has not done well”.

“Increased efficiency in end-uses would mean that demand could be lower, and if demand is lower, especially at times of peak use, it is likely that fewer new engines need to be brought on line to meet demand,” he said.

“Peaking engines being the most expensive to run- they use costly diesel and they are not as efficient themselves as the slower base load engines- overall energy costs to the customer could also be diminished through using those engines less.”

On that note, Mr Roban said: “Energy efficiency and conservation is the most effective way to reduce costs.

“Much of the incentive to embrace energy efficiency is in the hands of the utility- through innovative rate structures and public outreach and education so that the utility remains whole while helping their customers reduce costs; (c) to promote the use of cleaner energy sources and technologies, including alternative energy sources and renewable energy sources.

“The obvious rationale here is to be more environmentally responsible. Increasing the uptake of renewables responds to climate change by increasing Bermuda’s resiliency, through less reliance on imported fuels,” he said.

As “renewable energy reduces the amount of money spent on foreign commodities such as fuel oil, lubricants, replacement parts and the like”, he noted: “That capital would instead be retained on island, and hopefully circulating in the local economy…”

As noted in the Energy Act 2016, the Minister also moved to “assure the general public” that “any prospective new owners- and, indeed the current owners-to adhere to the Integrated Resource Plan [IRP], once complete”.

“While the IRP is being developed by the Regulatory Authority and not this Government, we can state quite emphatically that we look forward to more renewable energy, for example, solar energy which is abundantly available in Bermuda,” said Mr Roban.
“Power that does not require the importation of fuels, such as fossil fuels, is competitively sourced to be cheaper and cleaner. This type of energy mix that demonstrates that Bermuda is serious about energy independence is our vision for a power sector that benefits all of Bermuda. But, let us not just ‘tick the box’ of the IRP., compliance alone is not enough.
“Any prospective buyer of the Ascendant Group would have done their own due diligence in their investigations of the company. Any prospective  buyer would have taken note of the events in October of 2018, where plant workers were poised and ready to put their feet on the street in support of their Bermudian colleagues who were abruptly dismissed. Any prospective buyer would know that Bermudians are no longer willing to watch their qualified, educated, experienced colleagues be overlooked and under-valued.
“Therefore, we expect any prospective buyer to know that they will have to be transparent, inclusive, and collaborative. Transparent in their planning and decision making, so that matters of national importance once deliberated behind the closed doors on Serpentine Road are decided through open discourse across all the strata of our society.”
With that in mind, he said any plans moving forward must put Bermudians first, “and those Bermudians who are qualified must be given preference over non-Bermudians”.
“Collaborative, in that the community must be engaged to develop services and solutions that improve the triple bottom line; in other words, solutions that benefit the environment, the economy, and society,” said Mr Roban.
“Maintaining the status quo or simply a marginal improvement to that status quo will not be acceptable to this Government, nor can it be acceptable to our people. We will look forward to in whatever form, a better electric utility that shares the government’s vision of increased adoption of renewables, a fairer electric utility, all for a better and fairer Bermuda.”
With that said, the Minister moved to assure his parliamentary colleagues and members of the public in general, “that the Government will be actively working with the RA to achieve their expectations to obtain optimum services from the utilities, whether they be electricity or electronic communications”.
He also pledged to say more on “developments in the electronic communications area, in particular, the Integrated Communications Licences [ICOLs]”, in due course.