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WAPA Issues Request for Proposal for Puerto Rico Interconnection Environmental Study

(Tuesday, November 13, 2012)

The Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority has issued Request for Proposal (RFP) PR-12-13 for a Puerto Rico Interconnection Environmental Study. The study will assess the environmental impact of a proposed transmission line which would  interconnect the electrical systems of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. This  intended assessment follows two previous technical studies which confirmed the feasibility of the submarine interconnection, and also evaluated the highest level of renewable energy (such as solar and wind) that the utility can put onto its grid with and without  interconnection to Puerto Rico.

The extensive environmental assessment entails several required studies related to the construction and operation of the cables. These studies are the Bathymetric Study, Benthic Study, Archaeological Investigation, and Landing Site survey.  The main environmental concerns are about seabed impact and any possible erosion of the ocean floor. Federal permitting agencies will be involved in the environmental review of the project as well as state permitting agencies in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. The cable landing sites will require coastal zone management approval.

The proposed transmission line which would be about 50 miles from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands to Puerto Rico has received support at the highest levels of both island governments, and task forces of technical and financial experts have been assembled. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu have shown great interest in the line and have voiced support for the project.

The Authority’s Governing Board has included the subsea connection as a very viable option in its recently published “Energy Production Action Plan” (www.vwiapa.vi) because it presents an increased capacity for renewable energy integration without impacting grid stability, reduces air emissions resulting from power generation within the territory, has the potential to reduce overall electric rates and produce fuel savings, allows for more economical dispatch of existing generation, allows for preventive maintenance work on its generating equipment without interruption of service to customers, and enhances resilience to hurricanes and other natural disasters or fuel shortages. With the proposed interconnection, the Virgin Islands would not forfeit its ability to generate its own power for its citizens. The interconnection would be the foundation of establishing a Caribbean grid system similar to mainland electrical grids which allow states to economically purchase power from each other realizing a reduction in customer rates.  Such interconnections also ensure continued service in the event of equipment failure or other circumstances that cause service interruptions.

The project as currently contemplated would connect the Randolph Harley Power Plant in Krum Bay, St. Thomas to the Fajardo substation on the east coast of Puerto Rico. A possible St. Croix interconnection would be from Frederiksted to the Yabucoa substation in southeastern Puerto Rico, a distance of approximately 80 miles.  While technically feasible, the St. Croix connection would exceed the deepest current subsea electrical cable deployment by approximately 340 feet and would require additional laboratory testing and likely prove much more expensive. An interconnection from St. Thomas to the British Virgin Islands is also being evaluated.

Federal funding and other options are being sought for the construction of the interconnection cable which can be estimated at between $125 million and $300 million depending on whether one or both islands are connected, the sizing of the cable and other infrastructure upgrades that may be needed to maximize the efficiency of the undersea cable.

Questions and requests for the environmental study RFP package can be directed to madeline.webster@viwapa.vi or debarah.smith@viwapa.vi.  Proposals are due by December 13. Bidding documents and general contract terms will also be available on the Authority’s website by Tuesday, November 13.

 

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