Dispatched by the Department of the Interior, a local and federal team on Wednesday and Thursday surveyed sites on both islands where they plan to erect a handful of 60-foot towers to monitor wind speeds to create “bankable data” for investment and development of renewable energy.
The Virgin Islands was singled out for the pilot project, which is funded by $31 million in federal stimulus money, said Adam Warren, the V.I. project leader for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, or NREL.
“In order to really attract the investment for utility-scale development, we need more accurate data,” he said during a tour of a potential monitoring site in the Bovoni landfill Thursday.
He said the territory was specially selected over other U.S. territories and other islands by Energy Development for Island Nations (EDIN), a group led by experts from New Zealand, Iceland and the United States, whose mission it is to find alternatives to oil for island populations.
“From a resource point of view, of course, there’s lots of wind, lots of sun,” Warren said. “But from a people side, we knew we could get it done here."
He named Gov. John deJongh Jr., V.I. Water and Power Authority head Hugo Hodge Jr., and the V.I. Energy Office as partners who Interior officials believe embraced the concept of solar and wind energy.
Members of the survey group Thursday said the eight or nine sites they selected this week will be outfitted with wind-speed-measuring devices called anemometers, to be placed atop towers by early next year. Energy Office wind analyst Carl Joseph said his team will collect the data over the year and compile a final report.
Once they have the industry-standard data complete, Warren said his group will help WAPA’s Hodge and Energy Office Director Bevin Smith assemble a request for proposals from industry.
The whole process—from the start of data collection through plant construction and finally to the actual delivery of utility-scale wind power to WAPA—could take as little as three or four years, Warren said.
Hodge said that timing would coincide perfectly with the completion of power plants that WAPA has in the works now. Renewable energy sources such and wind and solar need a stable power grid to feed, Hodge said. The new power plants, fueled by either waste or petroleum coke, will provide that base-load infrastructure needed to take on the power generated by wind.
“Were trying to get the horse in front of the cart,” Hodge said Thursday after touring the Bovoni site.
Standing at the edge of the landfill between two of the highest ridges, a stiff wind blew warm and steady on the group as they poured over maps and printouts of computer wind models for St. Thomas.
“We like this spot because it’s accessible,” said Warren, adding that the landfill will be a renewable energy hub once the waste-to-power plants are done. He said the pilot project is also looking into capturing methane gas once the landfill is capped as well as placing solar panels over the capped dump.
Once the study launched with this week’s site survey in complete, Energy Office officials said they will post the wind resource map online so that residents, too, can determine the wind potential of their individual properties before deciding to install expensive wind turbines.