Many residents are eligible for energy assistance, V.I. Energy Office grants program manager Aminah Saleem told members of the Senate Government Operations, Energy and Veterans Affairs Committee during its meeting Wednesday on St. Thomas.
“Don’t say it ain’t for you. There may be a benefit you can receive,” Sen. Alicia “Chucky” Hansen added.
Hansen had Saleem read the income guidelines for the Energy Office’s Weatherization Program twice and had Energy Office program specialist Miguel Quinones translate testimony into Spanish to assist the territory’s Hispanic population in learning about the program.
The Weatherization Program provides assistance to families to improve energy efficiency through items like compact fluorescent light bulbs, an energy-rated refrigerator or hot water heater, low-flow showerheads, and power strips.
“The average home saves about $30 to $40 per month after their home has been weatherized,” Saleem said.
She said the Weatherization Program has served over 500 homes across the territory. Saleem expects the program to continue into Fiscal Year 2013 using U.S. Energy Department grants totaling $431,000.
Residents are eligible if they’re 60 years of age or older, disabled or have a family member disabled, have children under 5 years old, have more than 20 percent of the household income going towards the energy bill, are a family with high energy use, or are below the poverty level.
Income is the key. For example, a family of five must have a yearly income that ranges from $25,790 to $51,580.
Hansen called the meeting to get an update on how the Energy Office, the V.I. Water and Power Authority and the V.I. Waste Management Authority are doing when it comes to improving the territory’s energy capabilities.
“The global economic recession has the territory in the midst of a crisis,” said WAPA Director Hugo Hodge Jr. as he began the testimony.
At issue is the volatility in the cost of fuel, which ranged from $32 a barrel in October 2003 to $132 a barrel in September 2008 to $46 a barrel in April 2009 and to $133 a barrel today.
The closure of the Hovensa oil refinery adds to WAPA’s woes. While Gov. John deJongh Jr. announced Monday that Hovensa would continue to supply fuel to WAPA until the end of the year, Hodge said when pressed by Hansen that the deal hasn’t been signed. He said he was “not at liberty” to provide more information.
Hodge spoke about an interconnected electrical grid with Puerto Rico, noting that a request for proposal for the required Environmental Assessment Report will go out in the coming weeks.
He also said that a leased generator will be on line by the end of May to allow WAPA’s scheduled maintenance, which will help solve outages. In response to a question by Hansen, he said that WAPA’s plants have other types of outages every day caused by such things as iguanas hitting power lines and vehicles hitting poles.
Hodge also said that WAPA has a short list of six bidders for a solar system to produce a total of 10 megawatts of power on St. Thomas and St. Croix.
“The contract is anticipated to be in place by May,” he said.
The committee spent the afternoon hearing presentations from Aeronautica Windpower, a company that wants to provide wind power to the territory, and from Cheniere Energy, which works in liquefied natural gas.
The Massachusetts-based Aeronautica Windpower would like to build a St. Croix plant that will produce 10 megawatts of power. To provide power without fluctuations, the plant would have a 10-megawatt backup generator.
Brian Kuhn, the company’s vice-president of product and project development, said the plant would be located on 200 acres of privately owned land.
“We can give you very competitive pricing,” Kuhn said, but wouldn’t be specific about price because he said it would depend on the wind speed and the location of the plant. He said that wind usually runs less than 20 cents a kilowatt.
Kuhn said the company could also provide desalinized water as part of the package.
The company would make the investment after signing a contract with WAPA to be an independent power provider.
“We’ve been searching for this. It’s good to see a company willing to invest,” Hodge said.
However, Aeronautica Windpower would have to be the successful bidder in the Request for Proposal process, Hodge said.
Making power with liquefied natural gas is even further from reality. Renato Pereira, a vice-president at Cheniere Energy, said there is excess liquefied natural gas in the United States so the company is looking for markets.
“We have more natural gas in the United States than we know what to do with,” he said.
He said he envisioned using a facility in the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico to serve as the distribution hub for delivery by ships from the mainland. Smaller ships would transport the liquefied natural gas to the Virgin Islands. At issue is the fact that the territory currently has no facility to receive the gas.
“We want WAPA to help us identify an available solution,” Pereira said.
He said the territory’s yearly usage would fill about half a cruise ship.
When the roll call was taken at the start of the day-long meeting, Hansen, Sens. Janette Millin Young, Terrence “Positive” Nelson, and Usie R. Richards were in attendance. Sen. Craig Barshinger, who is not a committee member, attended the energy presentations.