We all use it and our lives revert to the dark ages when it is turned off. Electricity in the USVI needs some change in order to better serve all the stakeholders involved.
First let’s look at some facts:
USVI population 105,275
Energy production 1 billion KWH per year
Energy consumption per person 2622 million BTU’s per year
Consumption of petroleum products 113.5 thousand barrels per day
Carbon footprint, carbon dioxide emissions 19 million metric tons per year
Our marketplace according to The U.S. Energy Information Administration: “the USVI has no conventional energy resources and imports petroleum products to meet its energy needs, including electricity and desalination for its public water supply. The USVI’s economy has typically been about seven times more energy-intensive than the U.S. economy, and per capita energy consumption in recent years has run as much as eight times higher than the U.S. average. Energy efficiency is low because of water desalination requirements, the predominance of small simple-cycle generators, and operational constraints and power losses on the islands’ isolated electric grids. The government has set a goal of reducing fossil fuel demand by 60% by 2025 across all consuming sectors.”
So why do we need change? We have grid parity in our energy market, It exists when an alternative energy source generates electricity at a cost matching the price of power from the electric grid. Our current net metering agreements do not account for the real costs. Our government has capped the renewable energy allowed on the grid far below its stated goal of 60%. WAPA has no financial incentive to restructure. Why would WAPA want competition in the power generation market? Why should they make their product cheaper and get less revenue? Why should they innovate?
To be fair WAPA has done some innovating. They are building solar instillations in both grids to fill the capped allowable energy from renewable resources in those grids. They are implementing propane as a fuel source to help reduce LEAC (levelized energy adjustment clause) costs, currently at 40.05 cents per kw. These actions are a good start.
The incentives we have for change: Morally we need to stop polluting our planet for future generations. Carbon emissions are the scoreboard. Our pristine climate and environment is the heritage I want to leave and not the highest electricity costs in the USA, My last bill at 51.91 cents per kw, USA average 12.84 cents per kw and the second most expensive is Hawaii at 38.4 cents per kw. Reliability we need multiple sources of energy generation so our grid does not fail when one source goes down. Clean power the tolerance of 1 hert and 1 volt deviation should be standard for any grid interaction. How many refrigerators and electronics have been burnt out due to power fluctuation? Higher speed in demand and supply of electricity, generators take time to spin up and connect to the grid during this time the demand strains the grid.
So what would this new grid look like?
We need to separate power generation from power transmission and grid management.
Opening the market for power generation from multiple sources; WAPA’s generators will be the backbone but we need to allow for other power generation to enter the market with both residential and commercial PV, Wind and other renewable resources. As renewable resources become less expensive traditional power generation from fossil fuels becomes more expensive. This would allow individuals and businesses alike to finance and produce energy at the lowest possible cost. Companies and individuals have disengaged from the grid because they can produce power off grid for less than current WAPA energy prices.
Managing the grid.
We need to add utility scale batteries into our grid, Batteries provide frequency regulation and faster response than fossil fuels for grid stabilization. This is available from AES energy storage and others see links in the reference section. We need to upgrade our grid to a smart grid that can stack resources so we can meet demand using the most cost effective energy production available at that moment. This cost should include the carbon footprint associated with its production. Smart grids incorporate a data flow and information management to support grid activity. See www.smartgrid.gov
Separate the cost of transporting and delivering the electricity through the electric grid to reach a customer and using the real transit cost separating wholesale and retail electricity costs. We need transparence in WAPA accounting to accurately set prices for wholesale power generation and retail power consumption. We must amend the net metering to be accurate and fair to everyone. Currently we are reassigning grid transmission costs to rate payers and not grid users. Again this cost must be realistic or more customers will go off grid and those left behind will pay more.
Motivation: WAPA has a monopoly. How can we encourage change? Do the people of the USVI have the political will to demand change? What would be the cost of upgrading our grid to allow for a distributed power generation on a smart grid? How can we open the market to achieve 100% renewable resource power generation? We have Grid parity why not allow the free market to achieve this goal.
I want to believe: “The Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA) is a public-power utility whose core purpose is to enhance the economic development and the quality of life for people living in the U.S. Virgin Islands and the surrounding areas.”
My WAPA bill always confused me. What are the definitions of the services they provide? BASE RATE @.073599: is that the cost to produce electricity at the plant not including fuel? LN LOSS SUR @.002196: is this a measure of inefficiency of our grid? MAINT SURCH @.024863: is this what I pay for rolling blackouts? OPEB SURCH @ .008668: I have no idea what this is. PILOT SUR: @.000686 is this another fuel charge, maintenance or the cost of delivering fuel via ship? Fuel CHARGE @ .400476: LEAC right? Just fuel is higher per kw than anywhere else in the USA. Finally INS SURCHG @.001925: I believe insurance is a good idea after all natural disasters happen.
In closing I know that we as a community can do much better to enhance the economic development and quality of life than is currently being done. A better grid infrastructure and lower energy cost will benefit everyone. Rather than continuing to rely on traditional power production we need this change. We need WAPA to focus on making a better grid. We need political will to drive change.
Simplifying the math; our current cost .52, LEAC .40, everything else .12. I would rather spend twice the national average cost of electricity solely to upgrade our grid .26 per kwh and allow distributed power generation where competition would reduce the price of electricity production. I strongly believe we can get it well under the .26 per kwh threshold and still save money over what we are paying now. In 2010 the average cost of PV energy production was .23 per kw and it is estimated that that cost will be .06 cents per kw by 2020.
With new technology like thermal salt heat storage we can run steam generators for 6 hours after dark. Floating wind turbines allow us to stop tropical deforestation for PV. We need to tell our politicians and WAPA to change.
Thanks for your time Andrew A. Prins, resident St Thomas
Andrew A. Prins, St. Thomas
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