Open forum — St. Thomas
When the first news was released about the Alpine Energy deal in August 2009, I was delighted. At last, we would take care of the garbage problem and re-use our trash for cheap, safe energy production! I even told others it looked like a good plan – until I began to read the presentations on Alpine’s website and the articles by the heads of WAPA & WMA.
Abruptly --from reading WAPA documents –not the critics, I found out the main source of energy production is not going to be garbage – but will be pet coke, which will create its own significant waste disposal problem! So we don’t solve the “garbage” problem. Pet Coke is a petroleum product and it is subject to even more pollution concerns than oil, as well as price/demand concerns for estimating future costs. As someone who was trusted, in my professional life, by major corporations to do financial models for new products, I can tell you that very small changes in financial facts can have big changes in outcomes.
Then I found out that WAPA and Alpine both proudly say consumers will save 10% or more over 20 years compared to what we would pay if we continue to use our current method –oil. Read that as - our costs will go up, still the highest consumer energy costs in the US. 10% is not much incentive to give up 30 acres of shoreline land each on St. Thomas and St. Croix to ugly, environmentally threatening, and potentially risky uses. With risk, there should be reward– and not just for the business people. And why such big risk at one time? Why not start smaller –on one island with one plant? Then twice as much WMA garbage would be available for that plant: surely a cost savings.
Everyone in the territory will be sharing all of the risk of this half-billion dollar investment. If this get started and fails we will have scarred shorelines and half built factories. Unfortunately, we have a long history in the territory of grandiose schemes (Is this Beal Aerospace 2?), and ineffective and partial implementation and management. We are justly skeptical. With our high energy costs, if we can’t find new energy generation proposals that can deliver dramatic reductions in real cost, then we are probably better off with the status quo – until new technologies with greater cost savings are proven out in other places.
Coral Bay has been subject to the acrid smoke from the malfunctioning British Virgin Islands garbage incinerator for a number of years now, as the BVI works to install a bigger incinerator and promised scrubbers to clean contaminants out of the smoke. BVI is supposed to be following EPA-type guidelines We all know from bitter experiences that things don’t necessarily work as they should – and the people are the victims.
I listened to the Alpine paid programming on Channel 2 last weekend. In part that inspired me to speak out now. Mr. Hurd of Alpine appealed to citizens saying if we didn’t trust him, Alpine or WAPA , we could “trust the bankers (who lend money) to watch over the project and make sure it goes well.” I don’t think President Obama would agree with that statement, do you? Nor would those of us who stare at bungled the Sirenusa project every day --now bankrupt and belonging to the bank. Mr. Hurd also said that this project would cost the VI government nothing. Perhaps this is technically true, if you don’t count the other potential uses of the 60 acres of land or the dollar amounts that WAPA must fork over if building costs exceed estimates in the contracts.
For instance, according to Mr. Hodge, WAPA will have to pay 50% of the next couple million dollars if the cost of building the dock at Stalley Bay exceeds $8 million. All anyone has to do is look at the drawing of the proposed large concrete dock to be built in south-facing ocean waters, strong enough to hold large cranes, and know the budget is going way over $8 Million. This project has some very unrealistic cost assumptions on items like this that are easy for the general public to gauge. Here’s another one: Mr. Hurd says the value of the project is that the VI will save 625 barrels a year of oil. How much oil is that? It’s 30% of one supertanker delivery or a number of smaller tanker deliveries to existing ports. 60 acres of land on small islands, the expense to build factories and docks, shipments of pet coke and waste between islands -- all to save a few tanker shipments and 10%? Does this make sense?
Furthermore, I think it was imprudent of WAPA and Alpine’s planners to choose areas on both islands with protected threatened wetlands and coral reef environments, rather than choosing existing industrial areas that could be improved and updated, not degraded.
Even if the VI Senate votes to approve all the leases this week, the chances of these relatively pristine sites making it through the federal Army Corps or US EPA environmental protection processes in an expeditious timeframe from a business standpoint is probably zero - or never. It is SO inefficient not to consider these concerns first – as must be done in most US jurisdictions. We really should ask who is being served by having significant consulting funds spent up front?
We do need to solve these waste and energy problems – and we will – more quickly and surely -- with smaller scale and numerous projects, not one huge, risky scale solution that would take years, if ever, to start producing energy.