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USVI Senate Panel Looks for Alternative Energies

There is not one, single big answer to the energy problems facing the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to Karl Knight, director of the V.I. Energy Office. Instead, there are many small answers which may steer the territory towards an energy independent future.

Knight was one of the speakers testifying Wednesday before the Senate Committee on Government Operations, Energy and Veterans Affairs. The session was a continuation of an informational hearing held in December on alternative energy options, and was held at the Frits E. Lawaetz Conference Room in Frederiksted.

Looming heavily over the hearing was the fact that between the December and Wednesday’s sessions, the energy giant Hovensa announced it would close its St. Croix refinery, which along with employing some 2,500 people also provides fuel for the islands’ electric generators and all the gas pumps in the territory.

“Everything we’ve been trying to do has been thrown off by Hovensa,” said attorney Iver Stridiron, who represented the V.I. Waste Management Authority. The impact of the Hovensa shutdown has added a greater sense of urgency to the issue.

The Alpine Energy Group waste-to-energy project, which has been simmering for two years, may get a little closer to fruition later this month when the full Senate takes up the lease for a waste processing plant at the Bovoni landfill on St. Thomas.

Senate President Ronald Russell asked Stridiron for assurance that if the Senate does vote on the project it won’t be an exercise in futility.

“If we okay this, is there an opportunity for the project to proceed?” he asked.

Stridiron said, “Yes. We’ll be moving one step closer.”

Knight listed a series of areas in which the Energy Office is pushing forward.

– Photovoltaic electricity: The Water and Power Authority has narrowed the list of responses to a request for proposals to three projects to produce electricity on St. Croix with photovoltaic energy. WAPA could have the first systems online as soon as early 2013, Knight said. The new systems, combined, would be larger than the 451-kilowatt system at the Cyril King Airport on St. Thomas, currently the largest solar electric system in the Caribbean.

– Biomass: Along with the Alpine waste-to-energy project, there are other potential sources of biomass energy, Knight said, including sewage sludge and rum “bottoms” from local distillers. There is not an infrastructure to produce the energy from those sources, but the potential is there, he added.

– Wind: Knight said the Energy Office is finalizing contracts for meteorological towers on St. Thomas and St. Croix to find out whether there is utility-scale wind resources on the islands. “We anticipate having the contract fully executed within the next 30 days.”

– Landfill gas-to-energy: The territory is required to capture methane produced by the decomposition of trash in its two landfills. The EPA only requires the gas be “flared,” or burnt off, but many jurisdictions capture that gas and use it for energy production. Knight and Stridiron both said that approach has potential in the islands. A gas-capture project at the Bovoni landfill is slated to be completed by the summer. A similar project is envisioned for the Anguilla landfill on St. Croix, but first officials will have to determine how much gas it produces.

The territory is also exploring a shift to natural gas, but significant technical and economic problems must be overcome, Knight said. A project that allows for the conversion of WAPA’s generators is also under consideration.

David Hall, president of the University of the Virgin Islands, testified that the school continues to work towards its goal of cutting fossil fuel use in half by 2015. Hall told senators that consultants have estimated two solar electric projects producing a combined five megawatts of power on the two campuses could cut the school’s $4.8 million electric bill by at least $1 million and maybe as much as $2 million.

The school explored wind-generated power for the St. Croix campus, but proximity to the airport put height restrictions on what could be done, and the need to be able to lower such equipment in the face of a storm made it unfeasible, Hall said.

Members of the committee bridled at the absence of WAPA Executive Director Hugo Hodge Jr., who was off-island. Chairwoman Alicia “Chucky” Hansen said she would invite him to one more meeting, reminding him of the statute that requires government employees to attend such hearings and provide information when requested.



Category/ies:Regional News.
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