The V.I. Water and Power Authority has begun the process of buying new generating units for the Randolph E. Harley Power Plant on St. Thomas, with the aim of making power production more efficient and reliable, according to WAPA.
“Our strategy, based primarily on the findings of a final draft of the Integrated Resource Plan, is not only to bring new generators online but to ensure their efficiency, which will save millions of dollars a year in fuel costs as well as bring about a renewed sense of reliability at the Harley power plant,” acting WAPA Executive Director Julio Rhymer said in a statement Tuesday.
According to the utility, WAPA’s senior management has been in talks with several manufacturers to determine a path forward in designing, delivering and installing the units.
“We have long recognized that the generators in our fleet have served us well, but have aged and are getting very expensive to both operate and maintain,” Rhymer said. Many of these generators have been in the WAPA generation mix since the late 1970s and 80s. The workhorse generator for St. Thomas, its biggest unit, called simply Unit 23, is simply too large of a unit to operate based on the present peak demand and has experienced mechanical problems.
“In Unit 23, we have a generator that is long overdue for a major overhaul leading to the unreliability and inefficiency of the unit,” Rhymer said.
"While we cannot avoid the major overhaul of the unit we may decide not to convert it from oil to tri-fuel operation," he said.
Rhymer said he and his engineering team are eyeing a number of smaller units that can burn both propane and natural gas in the generation of electricity.
“A cluster of smaller units versus a single, oversized unit is a more cost-efficient and reliable approach to power generation. Coupled with one or two larger generating units fueled by oil and propane, this should provide us ample capacity to satisfy the current peak power demand and factor in continued growth of the islands,” he said.
The Harley power plant provides electrical service to St. Thomas, St. John, Water Island and Hassel Island, with a peak power demand of roughly 65 megawatts. Since the units are generally available on the market, Rhymer estimated WAPA could take delivery by the third quarter of 2017, if all regulatory hurdles are cleared in a timely manner.
Rhymer said the units would have “to undergo a certain level of customization to meet both WAPA’s needs and emission requirements of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” but noted they are readily available. He said, “Once installation is complete, we should be phasing out or retiring the existing units.”
St. Croix will not be overlooked.
“The Estate Richmond Power Plant is stable for the time being and is in much better shape than its counterpart on St. Thomas,” Rhymer said. “On St. Croix, we are focused on completion of smart-meter deployment, continued build-out of the smart grid through the implementation of Automated Metering Infrastructure, and hardening the transmission and distribution system so the effects of inclement weather is minimized," Rhymer said.