March 13, 2007 In August 2006, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) released its 2006 Insular Areas Energy Assessment, a long-awaited analysis of seven U.S.-affiliated territories energy agencies, systems, issues, and opportunities. Roughly 50 pages of the 487-page document are dedicated to the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Consultants hired by DOI visited each Insular Area and held meetings with government and utility personnel. Recommendations were then produced in three areas supply-side energy efficiency, demand-side management, and renewable energy considering each areas unique characteristics and existing programs and systems.
The report made it clear that we in the Virgin Islands are not alone under the U.S. flag in facing high energy costs, relying almost exclusively on oil for energy, and coping with aging electric systems; all areas studied share these challenges. But though our energy costs are on the high end even for the Insular Areas, the reports general observations were positive for the VI. Of the areas studied, the Virgin Islands were found to have the greatest capacity for utilizing technology, developing energy policies, and delivering services.
In fact, WAPA and the Virgin Islands Energy Office (VIEO) are already addressing several of the recommendations and evaluating the feasibility of others. In early 2006, WAPA became an ENERGY STAR partner and continues to promote energy efficiency in conjunction with ENERGY STAR programs. Several of the reports recommendations are discussed below.
Lighting: The report advises continuing programs to promote increased use of energy-efficient lighting. These programs are indeed in full effect. For example, with the approval of the Public Services Commission, WAPA recently purchased 60,000 ENERGY STAR-rated compact fluorescent light bulbs from its demand-side management fund and are giving them away to customers at a series of events and at WAPA offices. Additionally, WAPA continues to distribute information on the benefits of lighting efficiency and many other energy-saving tactics.
Net Metering: The report recommends that the VI implement net metering. WAPA and the VIEO support net metering have mapped out an implementation program with the approval of the Public Services Commission (PSC) to encourage small-scale energy production by customers. In fact, at WAPAs governing board retreat last December, Executive Director Alberto Bruno-Vega suggested that the utilitys future role might be as a night owl, producing power only at night, when customers individual power generation systems are not operating. Six facilities in the territory have already been certified by the VIEO to sell WAPA the power they generate themselves using solar panels or windmills. WAPA has the potential to be able to accommodate up to approximately 1500 customers through its net metering program.
Air Conditioning: According to the report, considerable energy savings can come from improving maintenance of air conditioning units and replacing low-efficiency units throughout the territory. WAPA agrees, and in fact has been actively promoting efficient appliances and systems air conditioners and others long before the report was issued. As an Energy Star Partner, WAPA has also been encouraging Virgin Islanders to reduce consumption by altering energy use practices for example, by adjusting AC settings and taking other simple actions.
Solar Water Heating: WAPA and the VIEO have been considering various programs to promote widespread use of solar water heaters, in line with another of the reports recommendations. These include renting or financing the sale of the heaters. Senator Louis Hill is also proposing legislation which would require new homes to include solar water heaters. Under the proposed legislation, the government would also help to finance solar water heaters for existing homes. To further promote solar water heating and other alternative energy technologies for commercial users, WAPA is in the process of making presentations to community and business organizations in conjunction with the VIEO. Additionally, the report recommends that WAPA install and monitor a rooftop grid-connected photovoltaic solar energy system to gain experience with solar technology. In fact, WAPA is already preparing to implement a demonstration program with the assistance of the VIEO.
Power Plant Efficiency: The report notes that WAPA has been encouraged to replace existing electricity generation units with more efficient diesels. Additionally, a previous study determined that some of WAPAs older combustion turbines and boilers should be dispatched only on an emergency basis and eventually retired. WAPA recently purchased a heat steam recovery generator (waste heat recovery boiler) for its St. Croix power plant, which makes electricity generation at the power plant more efficient by capturing waste heat and turning it into more electricity. This unit will be installed within the next year and will result in immediate savings to customers of $10 million dollars annually based on fuel at $60 per barrel. Additionally, WAPA has other operational plans in progress to maximize savings to the utility and its customers.
Petroleum Coke: The report recommends assessing the potential of using petroleum coke, a solid byproduct of oil refining, as a fuel. WAPA has investigated this and found that it is technically feasible. However, burning pet coke would require a significant investment ($408,000,000) to convert existing systems to process pet coke as a fuel. WAPA recently approached HOVENSA about a potential joint venture, but HOVENSA declined. While there are new technologies that make using pet coke as a fuel source for power generation cleaner than ever before, WAPA will continue to research its costs feasibility and any potential impact on global warming as it is included in the Authoritys generation mix portfolio recently announced by the Governing Board. .
Wind Power and Ocean Thermal Energy: WAPA has also investigated other renewable energy technologies. The report recommended a cost analysis of the potential for developing wind power resources. An analysis has already been performed, but a potential wind project fell through because the contractor could not guarantee that its system would withstand a Category 5 hurricane. Despite this, WAPA executives concluded at its recent governing board retreat that wind power is here to stay, and needs to be further investigated. The report also suggested looking into Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) as an alternative energy source for the VI, an option that WAPA is already considering. At the WAPA governing board retreat, WAPA management received a presentation on OTEC. They are currently evaluating the technologys potential for the Virgin Islands, along with other alternative energy sources, and are evaluating options that will provide the best value over the long term. Incorporating ocean thermal technology into WAPAs energy portfolio would require an investment of $640,000,000.
Inter-Island Network: WAPA has also investigated an additional energy-saving option which will also enhance reliability. The report mentions that St. Thomas and St. Croix are not electrically connected via an underwater cable (which would eliminate inefficiencies created by separate electric facilities and reserves), due to especially deep waters between the two islands. But WAPA has learned that a different path for the cable would allow it to avoid extreme depths and become a viable energy-saving opportunity. WAPA is in the process of pricing this opportunity.
Energy Efficiency Is a Priority
The reports dozens of additional, highly specific recommendations will serve as an excellent guide for future energy policies and programs, and WAPA is optimistic based on recent assurances from
the newly-elected governor that energy will be a priority in the coming months. But WAPA is already on the right path, having gotten underway implementing or investigating many of the reports recommendations before the report was even composed. Together, WAPA and the VIEO can build on programs currently in place, evaluate further DOI recommendations, take additional action, and continue striving to ensure the Virgin Islands a more sustainable and affordable energy future.
Click here for the full Insular Areas Energy Assessment, and www.viwapa.vi for energy saving tips.
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