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PSC Certifies Fourth Small Power Provider

Aug. 17, 2005 – The territory now has four certified small power providers. Antilles Energy Cooperative was given a unanimous thumbs up Wednesday morning by the Public Services Commission to be designated a small power producer. The certification will allow Antilles Energy to enter the competition to supply the V.I. Water and Power Authority with renewable energy.
Antilles will use biomass gasification technology to create power, according to its application. One sticking point about the company's certification is the amount of power they can produce — 60 megawatts per plant, per island, which is double what is allowable for a small power producer under the V.I. code.
But Antilles proposes to get around that restriction, if needed, by splitting the power between two plants on each island – St. Thomas and St. Croix. That solution was acceptable to commissioners, who held a special meeting to consider Antilles' request for certification.
Commissioner Verne C. David said he had had reservations about Antilles' proposal prior to Saturday, when the power went out for an extended period on St. Thomas and St. John. And after Tuesday's hours-long outage, during which David reports that he was looking at the application with his flashlight, he said he no longer had any reservations. "I have no problem certifying as many entities as come here saying they can provide reliable power."
In a presentation last week, Frank P. Wilbourne III, president of Antilles Energy, made it clear the company could take over most of what WAPA is generating, and would like to do so. (See "New Legislation Forces WAPA and PSC to Cooperate".) For the time being, however, Antilles Energy will compete to provide part of the power.
Now, the race begins to meet the deadlines set by the Emergency Jobs Creation and Economic Stimulus Act of 2005 – known as the "Jn Baptiste bill."
As it stands, all companies interested in providing underlying power must be certified by Aug. 31 and negotiations must be completed and signed off on by Sept. 30.
But action in the Senate last week may change that. In a legislative session Friday, senators amended the bill to give more time for WAPA and the PSC to get their act together on certifying and choosing a small power provider as the bill requires. Under the law, if more than one power provider submits a proposal, the Public Services Commission is charged with reviewing the proposals and making the final determination as to which company will get the contract.
Friday's amendments gave the PSC until Oct. 30 to certify any other small power providers, and until Nov. 30 for negotiations to be completed and a decision made. The amendments have not been sent to the governor yet, but James Francis, Senate president Lorraine Berry's chief of staff, said they are expected to be sent to the governor Thursday.
Wilbourne made a strong case for his company both Wednesday and last week, saying he can guarantee a rate of 9.2 cents a kilowatt hour for the next five years, against the current cost of about 24 cents a kilowatt, including the LEAC, or Levelized Energy Assessment Charge.
Carrying out the numbers, Wilbourne says this can save ratepayers $58 million a year. "Think what that could do to provide jobs and stimulate the economy," Wilbourne said.
Wilbourne also says his company is "clean and green," and his partner in the cooperative, Biomass Gas & Electric, along with Antilles, have been contracted by the U.S. Defense Department to provide renewable energy to various military bases across the states.
Wilbourne said last week it would take about 18 months, from start to finish, to build the power plants they propose. That time does not include the permitting process, which in the V.I. can be lengthy.
The three other companies already certified by the PSC are St. Croix Renaissance Group, Caribbean Energy Resources Corp. and Caribe Waste Technologies. Caribbean Energy Resources would burn petroleum by-products, and Renaissance, which already has a facility built on St. Croix, would use coal to generate power. CWT would use a gasification process.
In attendance at Wednesday's special hearing were commissioners Jerris Browne, David, Valencio Jackson, Alric Simmonds, and Alecia Wells.


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