Skip to main content

Created: Jan 22, 2022 08:09

The Finger Solar Farm near the airport, developed by Saturn Solar Bermuda 1 (Photograph provided)

“Significantly lower” planning permission fees have been offered to developers of a solar farm at the airport, a Home Office spokesman has confirmed.

He added that the reduced rate – understood to be $100,000 – was justified due to the size of the site and the relative simplicity of the project.

The figure was revealed in a checklist of bonds released for The Royal Gazette by the Department of Energy in response to a public access to information request.

A Department of Public Works spokesman added yesterday that nearly $12,000 had been paid to Saturn Solar Bermuda 1, the developer of the six-megawatt plant, to cover the removal of asbestos cement pipes from the former US naval air base.

The government is leasing land in Finger from the company and both parties have been tracking the progress of the project in a spreadsheet.

A government entry in February 2019 read, “We note your comments in the Annual Building Permit Update that Saturn is ‘awaiting discussion of reasonable fees’.

“The level of building permit fees is a matter of common knowledge and Saturn should have been aware of this when formulating its bid for the solar project.

“Town planning costs are not freely negotiable.

“While the government is prepared to discuss with Saturn the level of building permit fees to be applied to the solar project, Saturn’s obligations to the solar project are clearly set out in the project documents.”

On April 3, 2019, another government update in April 2019 stated, “The Minister of Finance has approved a fee of $100,000.”

It was recorded that the building permit fee was received approximately two weeks later and the permit was issued.

A Home Office spokesperson said last week: “Regarding the level of planning permission fees for the solar project, although there was never a price quoted, the appeal documents of tenders note that the promoter pays all associated costs.

“These documents are publicly available, as is information on how fees are calculated.

“For perspective, permit fees are applied on a ‘per square foot of development’ basis and were designed for construction projects such as complex multi-story structures.

“In this case and for a development of this nature, the permit fees are relatively high by world standards.”

He added: “The solar farm has an extensive footprint – almost 19 acres – with a relatively low level of complexity, thus justifying a lower amount, as the fees were exceptionally high when calculated with current tariffs.

“The developer requested a lower rate in accordance with established global standards.

“And although the requested rate was not approved, the proposed rate was significantly lower than it would have been without the concession.”

The solar farm started feeding the island’s electricity grid last November.

It should be able to supply up to 13% of the island’s energy needs with maximum solar production.

A September 27, 2019 checklist update stated that Saturn had issued a “Hazardous Substance/Compensation Notice.”

The government later said its hazardous materials team and a contractor would be mobilized to carry out remediation work.

An entry from May 15, 2020 indicated that payment of the indemnity notice had been approved.

A Department of Public Works spokesperson said yesterday that $11,808 was paid at the time “to offset costs associated with the specialized remediation of hazardous materials from the solar farm construction site.”

He explained: “The hazardous material in question was an asbestos cement pipe, a common construction material used in the former base area of ​​the United States.

“The agreement with Saturn Solar stipulated that the government was responsible for the removal of hazardous materials found at the site.

“On this occasion, the developer carried out the work and requested reimbursement.”

Walter Roban, the Home Secretary, told the House of Assembly in March 2019 that the site contained disused fuel tanks and other “strange equipment” that required careful handling.

The spreadsheet also showed that a compensation notice related to site cleanup work – also a government liability – was issued by Saturn in August 2019.

No further information on the request to clear the site was provided by the Department of Public Works at press time.

* To read the RFP for the solar project, click on the PDF under “Related Media”. Click here to download the checklist.