Federal officials reacted positively to presentations for an electrical interconnection project between Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands this week, possibly boding well for what may be a major part of the territory’s solution to exorbitant energy costs, according to Delegate Donna Christensen.
"While there is still work to be done, the possibility of funding support from several agencies was encouraging," she said in a statement Tuesday.
The project, which has the support of the governors of both territories and officials of both the V.I. Water and Power Authority (WAPA) and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), is aimed at providing more reliable and affordable power to the Virgin Islands and allowing Puerto Rico to sell its excess capacity.
All those at the meeting agreed it will also be a model regional project with the potential of providing more affordable power for the entire Caribbean, according to Christensen.
"Rising energy costs is the number-one concern in the Virgin Islands," said Christensen, adding, "our people are suffering under the burden of high costs."
Christensen noted that federal funding provides a meaningful way for the U.S. to keep its promises of economic development assistance to the wider Caribbean. "It will help to position the U.S. and its territories in a leadership role in the Caribbean," she said.
Gov. John deJongh Jr. attended the meeting and said the cost of electricity in the Virgin Islands, at 0.44 per kilowatt hour (kWh), is one of the highest in the country and is having a detrimental effect on disposable income and economic development. He said the interconnection project was an opportunity to lower costs for the territory and a chance for the U.S. to have a positive presence in the Caribbean, according to the statement.
U.S. Asst. Interior Secretary for Insular Affairs Anthony Babauta said that the project was also a model for the Pacific territories, where communities also struggle with high energy costs.
Puerto Rico Deputy Secretary of State Jose Rodriguez-Suarez also offered his support, saying the project was a partnership that will demonstrate the "promise of interconnection and that the Caribbean is taking care of the challenges that face the region."
WAPA Executive Director Hugo Hodge Jr. and PREPA Planning Director Patricia Alvarez gave a PowerPoint presentation to federal agencies, extolling the project’s viability. They outlined the proposed phases and talked about their view that the project needs both public and private funding.
A recently completed feasibility study envisions a series of cables connecting the U.S. Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands to Puerto Rico. There would be a cable from Fajardo in Puerto Rico to the Randolph Harley Power Plant’s Krum Bay Substation on St. Thomas; two sets of cables connecting St. Thomas to Tortola, BVI; and a cable from Puerto Rico directly to St. Croix.
According to the feasibility study performed by the energy technology firm Siemens, such a system could lower bills, improve system reliability and cut down on pollution in the territory.