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Officials Say It's Time to Tap V.I.'s Biggest Resource

Oct. 22, 2004 – Virgin Islanders are ahead of everyone in the states.
During a presentation at the Water and Power Authority Governing Board retreat on St. Croix Friday, Carl Wilkins, an engineer with Advanced Energy, showed a graph with lines indicating the cost of producing power generated by oil and the cost of power produced by alternative sources.
The oil line keeps rising and the alternative-power-cost line keeps heading down. People in the states are waiting for those lines to cross.
According to Wilkins, "In the Virgin Islands you have crossed the line." In other words, power produced by alternative fuels could be cheaper than power produced by oil here.
He said in the states a kilowatt-hour costs about eight cents to produce and here it costs 20 cents.
Stateside power providers are part of a large grid where power can be transferred from area to area when demand varies. One reason WAPA power is more expensive is because it is a stand-alone power system
At the beginning of his talk, Wilkins said he was going to be neutral and not make any recommendations. However, the facts seem to make him change his mind. In the afternoon, in a focus group he said, "Solar power seems to be the answer. It should work very well here."
Solar power received a lot of attention during the daylong retreat at the Carambola Resort.
Bevan Smith, of the V.I. Energy Office, said many commercial and residential power users in the Virgin Islands were already successfully using solar energy. He cautioned, however, that the customer paying WAPA $100 a month would probably take 20 years to get back the investment of converting completely to solar power. But, he added, there were things a resident could do immediately. He mentioned the rebates that the Energy Office is giving residents who install solar panels and other energy efficient devices.(See "Rebates Available for Energy Saving Residents").
Alberto Bruno-Vega, chief executive officer of WAPA, went so far in a discussion on Advanced Energy and Economic Development to say the government should mandate that every Virgin Islander install solar water heaters.
Bruno-Vega has been advocating the Virgin Islands get away from its dependency on oil. WAPA has been at odds with the Public Services Commission over WAPA's efforts to solicit bids from suppliers using alternative energy. (See "WAPA Moves Ahead Without Blessing of PSC").
Last month the legislature passed a bill with an amendment, sponsored by Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, with certain criteria, which would, in effect, order WAPA to immediately begin negotiating with energy providers. The bill is awaiting the governor's signature.
Bruno-Vega said the amendment is aimed at one potential energy provider and that provider would not get the Virgin Islands away from its dependency on oil. (See "WAPA-PSC Power Fight Comes to a Head in Senate").
The retreat was open to the public Friday. Sen. Luther Renee attended, but Baptiste was not present. Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards was scheduled to make remarks, but was not able to attend. He was meeting with Ivanna Eudora Kean High School Principal Sharon McCollum-Rogers and St. Thomas/St. John Superintendent William Frett.
Wilkin's presentation did not only cover solar energy. He talked about renewable fuels – wind, geothermal, hydro (oceanic), and biomass.
He said, "This is where the action is. This is where the opportunities are."
In promoting his amendment Baptiste points to a clause where the energy provider must promise to create jobs. Bruno-Vega has said that is only a written promise with no teeth in it.
Wilkins said alternative energy providers create local jobs by their very nature.
He said power generators who depend completely on oil are "at great risk" because of price and political instability. He also cited the negative effects of burning fossil fuels. He said asthma was at an all-time high.
After the morning presentations were made participants broke into focus groups.
Frank Shulterbrandt, Economic Development Authority chief executive officer, conducted one on Advanced Energy and Economic Development. He emphasized how important reliable and inexpensive power was to attracting businesses to the Virgin Islands.
Renee was part of this group. He suggested that a "territory-wide energy policy is needed."
Many in the group agreed with him adding that WAPA, PSC, the University of Virgin Islands and the V.I. Energy Office could play a part in the development of that policy.
Co-presenter May Adams Cornwall stated that the energy policy should incorporate the Comprehensive Land Use Plan and an economic policy.
The retreat also included discussions on Ethics and Fraud. Inspector General Steven van Beverhoudt conducted that discussion.
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