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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, May 23, 2024
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PSC Updated on Solar; Concern Voiced

BMR solar installation on St. Croix was the first, but many are expected to follow. (Photo courtesy BMR)

The V. I. Public Services Commission has spearheaded the territory’s effort to generate electricity from renewable sources for decades. However, Commissioner David Hughes urged caution as the commission reviewed the progress of wind and solar projects Tuesday.

As some projects could now include battery backup, he asked if the costs might be prohibitive. The price of producing power from solar or wind without batteries is about 60 percent of what it costs to burn fossil fuel.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that in 2022, propane generated about two-thirds of the territory’s electricity, fuel oil about one-third, and solar energy about three percent, and 80 percent of that three percent comes from customer-installed, small rooftop solar panel systems.

Those numbers will change dramatically if the six projects VI Electron detailed on Tuesday go forward.

Christian Loranger, owner of VI Electron, told the commission that the projects “were moving along very quickly.”

He said most of the materials for the project in Estate Petronella on the South Shore east end of St. Croix were already in place, and the panels were expected to be on the island within two weeks. He hoped the project would be completed by May 30 and the other two St. Croix projects would be completed by the end of the year. Then, the concentration would be on the two projects on St. Thomas. The sixth and final project would be on St. John.

He said he was moving forward with the projects. Still, his anxiety would be relieved when power purchase agreements for the battery part of the projects were signed and the interconnection agreements finalized.

According to a December PV Magazine article, “About 124 MWh of Honeywell battery energy storage systems will be installed alongside six solar facilities with a combined capacity of 140 MW” in the territory.

Loranger told the Economic Development Commission in December 2023, “With our battery and solar projects, we will be providing approximately 33 percent of the power load in the Virgin Islands.”

Hughes asked that WAPA and VI Electron agree as soon as possible on the costs of the purchase agreements with batteries and let the commission see the proposed costs. He said a big reason the utility was going to alternative energy was to cut costs.

Joel Hart of Advanced Power reported on the status of two wind projects – one east and adjacent to the refinery on St. Croix and the other on St. Thomas on hills adjacent to the Bovoni landfill. He said land leases from the government needed five signatures and had not gone forward yet. He said the wind projects would probably take two years.

The commissioners at the meeting also discussed how a reserve fund could be established so alternative energy producers would be paid for the power they supply WAPA. WAPA has had an issue keeping up with payments to BMR, the utility’s sole alternative energy provider. BMR owns the solar farm in Spanish Town on St. Croix.

The U.S. Information Administration says the average electricity price paid by territory residents was almost three times higher than the U.S. average power price of 15 cents per kilowatt-hour.

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