The V.I. Water and Power Authority is making significant progress in diversifying its sources of energy but, as new power producers come online, the grid could become increasingly unstable, said Hugo Hodge, WAPA executive director, at a meeting of the authority’s board of directors on Thursday.
Hodge told the board that WAPA was nearing an agreement for the supply of liquid petroleum gas (propane), which is slated to replace oil as the primary fuel at WAPA’s power plants sometime next year.
He said the original field of five companies who bid on the project has been narrowed to two contenders, Vitol Inc. and Trafigura AG.
WAPA will enter negotiations with both companies in 10 days, Hodge said, adding that he hoped to have an agreement in place in June of this year.
Hodge also said the authority’s industrial solar projects were progressing well and that the board should expect a groundbreaking ceremony sometime in the next few months.
WAPA signed contracts with Toshiba International Corp., Lanco Virgin Islands and Sun Edison LLC in June 2012 to build solar arrays on St. Croix and St. Thomas that will provide the authority with a total of 18 MW of electricity.
He also said that the authority was nearing a purchase agreement with Tibbar Energy, a proposed biomass electricity company on St. Croix.
While solar and biomass energy have the potential to lower electricity costs in the territory, Hodge warned that adding new sources of electricity to the grid could result in “significant” reliability issues.
Hodge said that, in a few years, St. Croix will have 10 MW of electricity coming from industrial solar, 5 MW from net metering and 7 MW from Tibbar, for a total of 22 MW being produced by alternative sources. He estimated that at peak consumption, the St. Croix grid only needed 45 MW. That means the WAPA power plant would only need to supply an additional 23 MW.
Hodge said that in this scenario, WAPA would likely only run one of the power plant’s generators and the waste heat boiler, which produces electricity by recycling waste heat from fuel-burning generators.
While this scenario would see WAPA burning less fuel and thereby saving money, Hodge warned that without a second generator operating, the grid would have no emergency backup. If the first generator were to fail for any reason, the entire island would suffer a blackout.
Hodge said that he and his engineers were testing several models to find the best way to incorporate these new sources of energy into the grid, and that WAPA had received a grant to conduct its modeling at Georgia Tech University.
Hodge said the high percentage of intermittent renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, combined with the small sizes of the territory’s two power grids offered challenges to planning that are unique to the Virgin Islands.
“That was the first comment made by the professor at Georgia Tech. This level [of intermittent renewables] is done nowhere,” he said.
Hodge said that the looming reliability issues will not affect the St. Thomas-St. John grid as badly, because that grid was larger than St. Croix’s and, as such, WAPA would need to operate multiple generators even with the district’s wind and solar projects.
Hodge said one possible solution to St. Croix’s modeling problem would be to expand the size of the grid, and he said he hoped consumption would increase when the price of electricity comes down after the conversion to propane and natural gas.
Until that happens, he said, adding any additional renewable energy producers on St. Croix would be problematic.
“I haven’t even put wind into this. I’m not doing any wind modeling on St. Croix, I’ll tell you right now,” Hodge said. “I’m afraid to see it.”
In other business, the board approved the following contracts:
– A $398,267 agreement with Fortress Electric to continue burying electrical lines in Christiansted;
– A $348,590 agreement with Zenon Construction to build a fence and gates around the Richmond Substation;
– Added $37,000 to a contract with Bryan’s Electrical Contracting Corp. for the extension of primary service to parcels 7 and 8 Curacao. The additional funding was to compensate the company for a previous work stoppage and to repair vandalized cables;
– Renewed a contract totaling $207,744 with Reef Broadcasting to provide WAPA with two-way radio coverage;
– Extended a contract worth $477,799 with Intelligent Security to provide security services at WAPA’s St. Croix facilities for an additional year
– And added $15,900 to a contract with AMP Cherokee to install continuous emissions monitoring systems to combustion turbines 22 and 23.