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Charlotte Amalie
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HomeNewsArchivesGeothermal Energy Plant Gets Preliminary OK from PSC

Geothermal Energy Plant Gets Preliminary OK from PSC

After laying the groundwork last month on a range of issues, Public Services Commission members were ready to make some decisions Tuesday, which included the approval of a petition that could allow for the construction of a geothermal energy plant on St. Thomas.
Wintdots Development has petitioned the PSC for qualifying-facility (QF) status for the plant, which would eventually open up negotiations with the V.I. Water and Power Authority for the sale of the power — the end result of which would be the creation of power purchase and interconnection agreements with the authority that would also have to be approved the by PSC.
During its meeting Tuesday, the board voted to accept recommendations made by its consultants to approve Wintdots’ petition, but deny an immediate move to expedite the two agreements until public hearings are held to discuss how much WAPA would be paying local small-power producers for their energy.
The proposed rates were submitted in January, and no one has really gotten a chance to look them over, PSC consultant Larry Gawlick explained Tuesday.
"It’s just too early," he said. "Not even Wintdots has looked at them, and I’m sure they would want to comment. But the good thing about this is that it gives people interested in investing in these projects an idea of how much they can earn."
The rates, which range from 3.5- to 19-cents per kilowatt hour within a 12-month period, would apply across the board to any qualifying facility doing business with WAPA, Gawlick said.
Meanwhile, there’s still a lot Wintdots can and has to do. While the company has applied for QF status as a cogeneration facility, Gawlick said Tuesday that the group is more of a small-power producer. The difference, he explained, is that a co-generator puts out a bi-product — such as steam or chilled water — that would be sold to a third party. Since that’s not happening here, Wintdots should move forward as a small-power producer, which would be limited to a 15 megawatt net output.
And after the PSC issues its final order granting QF status, the company has to provide geological studies to certify to the commission that the potential for geo-thermal energy — still considered a relatively new alternative energy source — exists at Wintdots’ proposed plant site on Flagberry Hill.
Then Wintdots can re-submit its petition to expedite the approval of the power purchase and interconnection agreements, which Gawlick said should be hashed out within a year. If the negotiations with WAPA don’t pan out, the company can come back to the PSC for help in resolving the issues, he recommended.
The vote to accept Gawlick’s recommendations and approve Wintdots petition for QF status was unanimous, with board members Joseph Boschulte, Donald "Ducks" Cole, Verne C. David, Sirri Hamad, M. Thomas Jackson and Elsie V. Thomas-Trotman voting yea.
After doing a quick run-through of some of the other issues brought up during last month’s meeting, PSC members also voted to:
– select a hearing examiner to review Choice Communications’ petition to become an eligible communications carrier; and
– appoint attorney Rosalie Simmonds-Ballentine as the hearing examiner to look into whether Island Wind Power — the company currently leasing wind turbines to Tutu Park Mall — should be regulated as a public utility.
On a positive note, WAPA Executive Director Hugo Hodge Jr. told the board that the long-awaited heat recovery steam generator (HRSG) is up and running on St. Croix and recently passed its performance test, which will allow WAPA to start collecting on a surcharge — to be folded into the base rate — that will help pay off the equipment costs.
The surcharge, set to go into effect next month, will add about $1 to residents’ bills, officials said.
PSC members also got updates Tuesday from Varlack Ventures and V.I. Sea Trans on local franchise ferry operations. Of note, Varlack Ventures principal Delrise Varlack said the company will soon be moving ahead with the second phase of its new ticketing system, which includes issuing standard ticket cards — intended to function like a stateside metro-rail or subway card — for students and commuters that usually buy bulk tickets.
While Varlack said the company is experiencing an "upsurge" in ridership that should continue for the next few months, V.I. SeaTrans head Captain Marjorie Smith said that the company, which is getting subsidies from the V.I. government every few months, does not yet know whether it would be getting any of the millions in federal economic stimulus funds that Public Works has earmarked for a variety of projects, ranging from transportation to the construction of bus shelters throughout the territory.
It would be easier for SeaTrans to have another boat so the company can maintain its schedule, but that would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million, Smith said.

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