St. John may receive its own solar “micro grid” if a measure passed by the board of directors of the V.I. Water and Power Authority bears fruit.
In an emergency session, the board voted to allow Executive Director Hugo Hodge Jr. to enter into a partnership with the V.I. Energy Office and the nonprofit Clean Coalition to develop a plan to deliver 11.6 MW of solar power to the island.
The board also voted to reduce the authority’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget by $2,188,435.
Hodge had few hard details to offer about the proposed solar project because it is still in its preliminary planning phase. He estimated that the project would require approximately 45 acres of solar panels, but he did not yet know where they would be located. He said many could be housed on rooftops and expressed confidence that adequate space would be found.
The project would also include 4 MW of battery storage. He stressed that this would not be “overnight” storage. The batteries would only be used to stabilize the output of the system, making up for dips in production due to cloudy conditions.
Board Chairman Gerald Groner took the opportunity to restate the limitations of implementing renewable energy caused by the lack of adequate energy storage technology.
“Despite all the sun and the wind that we have, because there’s no utility scale storage which is economical … there’s a limit to how much of the renewable we can use,” he said.
He added that the territory would continue to need a power plant that could consistently supply a base load, and the best renewable energy could do is supplement that energy. Groner said estimates vary on how much renewable energy can be effectively incorporated into a power grid from as little as 10 percent of the total to as much as 30 percent.
Hodge estimated that the addition of this project to the 18 MW of solar energy projects already being planned on St. Croix and St. Thomas would raise the share of renewable energy in the territory’s grid to just over 20 percent.
In Act 7075, the legislature mandated that WAPA produce 20 percent of its power from renewable energy by 2015, 25 percent by 2020 and 30 percent by 2025. Gov. John P. deJongh has stated an even more ambitious goal of 60 percent by 2025.
All of these goals are well above the low estimates of the renewable energy cap.
“This project is an example of using available technologies to push that cap as far as we can,” Groner said.
Karl Knight, director of the Energy Office, said the WAPA resolution in support of the project will bolster his agency’s attempts to acquire a grant for planning the project. He said that the deadline for the grant application is next week, necessitating the WAPA board to meet in an emergency session.
Knight said they are seeking a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce, a funding strategy they have not tried before. He said his agency would make the argument that energy prices are the largest hurdle to developing business in the territory, and as such a renewable energy project should qualify for a Department of Commerce grant.
The board also voted unanimously to cut almost $2.2 million from the authority’s budget to bring it in line with the funds they’ve been provided by the Public Services Commission.
Personnel costs were cut by $640,000, largely from overtime and compensatory time, and the remainder was taken from operating expenses. Most line items saw some reduction, including vehicle maintenance, training and education, maintenance and repairs, communications and special events expenses.
The revised WAPA budget projects a $60,000 surplus for the authority.
Referring to the process as “triage,” Groner said the authority never receives as much funding as it requests and that the budget process “comes down to prioritizing things we desperately need.”
Groner added, however, that the authority was more than willing to tighten its belt during this time of financial crisis.
“We’re trying to do, as best we can, our share to cut unnecessary expenses and hopefully in that way save the rate payers money,” he said.