Rocks, contracts, and China have all contributed to St. Thomas’s 6.4 MW solar project in Estate Donoe not being finished as planned last month, but work progresses.
Bruce Levy is the chief executive officer of BMR Energy, which acquired the site in 2020 and began constructing a new facility last April. BMR Energy also owns the solar farm on St. Croix. The St. Croix, 5 MW farm, was fully restored in November 2018 and is operating at full capacity, according to Levy. That farm generates enough power for 1,600 homes.
Levy told the Source this week that the St. Thomas farm would be operational in March or April. In an email, he wrote, “The project is behind schedule primary as a result of delayed shipping of solar panels from China. These panels were purchased and ready for shipping in April of 2021.” However, only half were shipped then, and the other half were not shipped until December.
According to some contractors, there are other problems too. Vandel Percival of Voneta Trucking says he sees no problem with the engineering of the project, which has more efficient panels with racking secured more firmly in the ground than the project blown away in the hurricanes of 2017. He does have questions about the execution of the project. The big question for him is, where is the $70,000 he says his firm is owed.
That problem stems from Polar Racking, which had contracted his company, but Polar Racking is no longer on the job. Depends on who you talk to as to why Polar Racking left – “pulled out,” “terminated,” or “had to leave because they had no license to do business in the Virgin Islands.”
When contacted by the Source, Vishal Lala, managing director at Polar Racking, said he could not comment now but would “when the time is right.”
Levy told the Source, “Polar Racking approached us last December seeking an increase in their contract price. We disagreed with their request but agreed to Polar’s request to arbitrate their request, as required under the contract. They stopped work for the Christmas-New Year break in mid-December and refused to return in January. Their failure to return to the site resulted in a termination of the contract.”
Eason Jeffers of Quantum Vision Construction, the main contractor under Polar Racking, also wants money from either Polar Racking or BMR. He says his company has not received over $250,000 it is owed for work done at Donoe, putting his company in a difficult position. He told the Source his company made a demand for payment for several months’ work in November. When no payment was received, Quantum pulled out on Nov. 23.
Jeffers said in his 30 years in the construction business, he has seen problems before with collecting payments. He added when it happens, it is usually with off-island companies. Polar Racking is in Toronto, Canada.
Levy told the Source, “We have advised Polar that they need to pay all of their contractors in full as BMR has already paid them for the work they had completed before leaving the site. We expect that the payments will be made by Polar, although payment may be delayed while the arbitration process continues.”
Jeffers says he has heard what BMR is saying, but “Nothing is happening.”
There were also problems between the different parties on the scope of work involved and how it could be accomplished. Percival of Voneta Trucking said that Polar Racking was unfamiliar with the ground at the site and situation in the Caribbean. He said his company was expected to put 200 posts in a day when 40 posts a day was more realistic when you must dig 10 feet deep in the rocky, sloping terrain.
Jeffers says the scope of work outlined by Polar Racking was much easier than what Quantum found when it arrived on site.
Andrew Smith, the new executive director at the V.I. Water and Power Authority, the customer for the power when the farm is completed, stands behind the project.
In an email to the Source on Jan. 25, he stated, “The Water and Power Authority has worked closely with BMR as the Donoe solar project returning to service will help reduce the territory’s reliance on fossil fuels.”
Global shipping and supply chain delays have resulted in deferred delivery of a portion of the solar panels for the project. “We have worked closely with BMR on a plan to address the delay and will now be energizing the project in phases beginning in early February. This allows us to place portions of the project in service prior to the March return to service date.”
Under the agreement WAPA has with BMR, the Authority, in the first six years, will not pay more than 20 cents per kilowatt-hour for the solar energy captured at Donoe, and it could pay as low as 11.5 cents. After the sixth year, the rate will be tied to the LEAC.
The racking supplied by Polar Racking, according to Levy, is engineered to handle 180 mph winds and is being mounted on stronger, driven piles that are installed deeper into the ground. He adds that a Geotech exploration and pile pull-out test program was conducted by PRI Engineering to characterize the soil conditions throughout the site and determine the required size and length of the piles to properly secure the system. During installation, resistance for each pile was to be monitored, and the pile would be grouted with concrete if it was found to be below targeted strength. Also, additional structural support was designed into the racking on the end and edges to strengthen rack tables.