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WAPA BOARD GETS UPDATES ON THE UTILITY’S PRIORITY PROJECTS AT MONTHLY BOARD MEETING

(Friday, October 21, 2011)

    Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority Governing Board members received updates on a multitude of the utility’s projects at its monthly board meeting, held today on St. Croix. Hodge and V.I. Energy Office Director Karl Knight who also serves as a WAPA board member, travelled to Barbados last week to attend the Caribbean Renewable Energy Forum with utility representatives and energy experts from throughout the world. Hodge said it was a unique opportunity to interact with other service providers from the Caribbean who have similar concerns as those experienced here in the territory. “It’s amazing because the entire Caribbean region is going through what we go through on a daily basis,” said Hodge. He said the focus at the conference was on how utilities can save their customers from high fuel charges. He said the consensus among his utility counterparts is that options to lower energy costs for customers are limited in the Caribbean region, so they must be handled very strategically.

    Knight said discussions verified that the entire region is in crisis. Island nations are considering six technologies as priority options to better their situations. They are: electric grid interconnection, conversion to natural gas, waste-to-energy, solar, wind and customer energy efficiency. “An evaluation done by the Barbados electric company about which technology made the most economic sense turned out to be biomass and waste-to-energy; the two methods that are being proposed locally with the Alpine project,” said Knight.

    Knight also said there are at least four studies in progress in the Caribbean region looking at the potential of electric grids between islands. However, WAPA is the first to have completed its feasibility study of an interconnection between Puerto Rico, and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, and the others are closely monitoring the progress of the V.I. project.  Hodge reported that a representative from WAPA has been invited to sit on a panel initiated by the Organization of America States (OAS), which is studying the feasibility of a connection between Puerto Rico and Nevis.  

    Hodge commented that  some may question the importance of feasibility studies versus a quick solution; however, it was the consensus at the renewable energy conference that  “as Caribbean nations with small systems, with no grids, we can’t afford to make mistakes that could set our community back at least 4-5 years,” said the executive director.

    Hodge discussed his latest trip to Washington, D.C. where the focus was on the electric interconnection grid with Puerto Rico. He said agencies such as the U.S. Departments of Interior, and Energy, FEMA, and others attended to discuss opportunities for funding. There was great interest in what is going on in the Virgin Islands. In fact, Hodge said, one of the attendees at the high-level meeting remarked this was the second important initiative he has heard about from the Virgin Islands within a month. Referring to the Caribbean region, Hodge said, “No place has as many sticks in the fire as we do to lower energy costs.” He was referring to some of WAPA’s priority projects including new reverse osmosis plants, the move towards liquefied natural gas, the line-loss prevention program, the electrical interconnection grid, upgraded substations to increase reliability, the GIS system, the installation of energy efficient LED streetlights, and the solar Request for Proposal (RFP) released earlier this year.

    When speaking about the 27 respondents to the solar RFP, Hodge said the original schedule published on WAPA’s website will shift because there were more qualified respondents than expected and each proposal must be fully examined by WAPA and its technical experts. “Without a doubt, we will have solar energy on our grid from this RFP,” said Hodge.  Hodge said the utility is at the point of determining who has met the necessary qualifications and is preparing to narrow the list. “Under the new timeline, the short list will be completed by the first or second week in December,” said Hodge.

    At the meeting, board members received a copy of the “USVI Energy Road Map: Charting the Course to a Clean Energy Future” which has been published in cooperation with the Energy Development in Island Nations-USVI partners. They are the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the U.S. Department of Interior, the V.I. Energy Office and WAPA. The road map explains in detail the territory’s plan to reduce fossil fuel use 60% by the year 2025. Board chair Juanita Young said the Road Map and other technical reports can be accessed on WAPA’s website at www.viwapa.vi.

    Hodge also reported on the following:

  • In partnership with the V.I. Energy Office, all agreements have been signed and within 30 days anemometers will be erected to measure wind speeds throughout the territory.  The data collected will help determine the best potential locations to place wind turbines.
  • An entity has expressed interest in using WAPA as part of their pilot program to determine the best means for energy storage. Hodge says if successful, the pilot program will give the Authority the ability to store a significant amount of intermittent renewable energy such as wind or solar until needed. Board Vice-Chair Atty. Gerald Groner, who also chairs the EDIN-USVI Renewable Energy Working Group, regards this as a great opportunity. “Without a grid or battery storage, renewable energy specialists have informed us that at the most we would get about 15% out of our renewables, but this project could change that,” said Groner. “If we could be part of that process and the community could benefit, it would be tremendous.”
  • The American Public Power Association selected Clinton Hedrington, WAPA’s Transmission and Distribution Director, as one of its Rising Stars in Public Power. The Broad applauded the write-up of Hedrington which appeared in the September edition of the Public Power Magazine and can be reviewed at www.publicpower.org

    In the WAPA Working for You segment of the agenda aimed at familiarizing board members and the public about various aspects of employee responsibilities, and employees about how the board functions, St. Croix Line Supervisor Yauncey Milligan gave insight on how the Line Department functions. He said the Line Department has four components: maintenance, construction, tree trimming and meter services. The construction component provides new lines for customers, the maintenance component troubleshoots and restores power to customers, the meter service section connects and reconnects meters, and the tree trimmers cut around the power lines. Milligan, who clearly enjoys his job, brought his personal equipment to the meeting, providing a visual for board members of what his duties entail. Milligan said every day before any lineman goes into the field, they must check their equipment to ensure their safety. He said, “We take maintenance very seriously in the line department.” He showed the gloves linemen use for working hot, his climbing hooks, safety belt, and demonstrated how a line fuse works. In speaking of the strenuous aspects of his job and work in locations where bucket trucks may not be able to go, Milligan said customers must have power so, “I climb poles almost everyday.” Hodge said that a line worker is considered one of the ten most dangerous professions in the world.

    Attending were Young, Groner; Knight; Noel Loftus, Secretary; Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Wayne Biggs and Cheryl Boynes-Jackson. Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Alicia Barnes, Donald Francois, and Brenda Benjamin were excused.

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