The response to the territory’s request for proposals (RFP) for a solar electrical generating project on St. Croix was so overwhelming that the V.I. Water and Power Authority will have to extend the deadline to award the contract, the utility’s board was told Wednesday.
It’s another sign that the U.S. Virgin Islands are moving steadily ahead in seeking solutions to the territory’s energy needs, according to WAPA Executive Director Hugo Hodge Jr.
The application period for the solar project ended last month, and at the time WAPA announced it had received 27 bids. At Wednesday’s board meeting, held at the WAPA headquarters on St. Croix, Hodge told the board that was far more than officials had anticipated.
The schedule had called for the project to be awarded by the end of the month, Hodge said, but now it looks like they’ll have to wait until December.
“Without a doubt, we will have solar energy on our grid from this RFP,” Hodge said. The utility is determining which proposal meets the qualifications to narrow the list.
“Under the new timeline, the short list will be completed by the first or second week in December,” he said.
Hodge updated the board members on the solar project during his executive director’s report. The board also heard from Yauncey Milligan a line supervisor who explained the ins and outs of his job to the board.
Other items included in Hodge’s report included:
• A company has expressed interest in using WAPA as part of a pilot program to determine the best means for energy storage. If successful, Hodge said, the pilot program will give the authority the ability to store a significant amount of intermittent renewable energy, such as wind or solar, until needed. Solar and wind energy are limited because they are not always available. A storage system would allow excess energy from peak production hours to be saved until it is needed later.
Gerald Groner, vice chair of the WAPA board, called the possible inclusion in a project a great opportunity. “Without a grid or battery storage, renewable energy specialists have informed us that at the most we would get about 15 percent out of our renewables, but this project could take the lid off that," Groner said. “If we could be part of that process and the community could benefit, it would be tremendous.”
• Hodge and Karl Knight, director of the V.I. Energy Office, who also serves as a WAPA board member, traveled to Barbados earlier in October to attend the Caribbean Renewable Energy Forum. Hodge said it gave them a chance to meet with other service providers from the Caribbean who have similar concerns as those besetting the territory.
“It’s amazing because the entire Caribbean region is going through what we go through on a daily basis,” said Hodge. He said the focus at the conference was on how utilities can save their customers from high fuel charges.
• Within 30 days, anemometers will be erected to measure wind speeds throughout the territory, Hodge said. The data collected will help determine the best potential locations to place wind turbines. The anemometers are being placed in partnership with the V.I. Energy Office.
Knight said six technologies are considered as priority options for the region: electric grid interconnection, conversion to natural gas, waste-to-energy, solar, wind and customer energy-efficiency.
Milligan took part in the meeting as part of the utility’s "WAPA Working for You" segment of the agenda, which helps board members understand the various aspects of employee responsibilities.
Milligan explained that the Line Department has four sections: maintenance, construction, tree trimming and meter services. The construction component provides new lines for customers, the meter service section connects and reconnects meters, and the tree trimmers cut around the power lines. Maintenance, where Milligan works, troubleshoots and restores power to customers.
He displayed some of the equipment the line maintenance workers use, including the insulated gloves that help them work with live power lines, the spurs and climbing belt for ascending power poles, and a line fuse.
While WAPA has bucket trucks that can carry the linemen aloft, often they can’t use it, Milligan explained. When the ground is saturated after a storm, it is often too soft for the truck to be used. But residents need power, so, “I climb poles almost everyday.”
Hodge said a recent listing of the 10 most dangerous jobs in the world include only one job common to the islands – electrical lineman.
"Every day they’re risking their lives," he said. "The last thing I say to them before they go out is always, ‘Be safe.’"