The V.I. Water and Power Authority’s propane initiative is in its final phases on St. Croix and, with the commissioning – or installation and testing – of the Unit 20 generator currently under way, officials said Friday that they expect the unit to be running on propane by Tuesday.
Unit 20 is one of four generators converted over the course of the project to be able to burn oil, propane and natural gas, and according to a news release from the authority, several safeguards have been put in place while crews will be working over the next few days to make sure that the unit is up and running properly.
“While this procedure is commonplace in the industry, WAPA is implementing several additional precautionary measures for security safeguards in and around the Estate Richmond Power Plant, to ensure that maximum safety standards are in place during this first phase of commissioning,” according to the release. “Until the authority has completed commissioning of the unit, barricades will be installed and traffic will be restricted in the area immediately surrounding the Richmond site.”
Motorists and pedestrians are asked to avoid the area, but officials said Friday that that the water standpipe and employee parking lot at the Richmond Power Plant will be accessible.
A series of alarms will be tested as the commissioning kicks off but the public will be alerted if there is an actual emergency through V.I. Alert, Facebook, the WAPA website and local media outlines.
WAPA Chief Operating Officer Greg Rhymer said Friday that in case of an emergency, all St. Croix firefighters have already been trained in how to respond to the power plant and the LPG facility. The training allowed firefighters to get familiar with the storage terminal’s fire protection systems and the plant’s emergency evacuation procedures in case outside assistance is needed.
“During the commissioning process, a series of functional and other performance tests of the unit are also necessary, to include service interruptions,” according to the WAPA news release. “These tests are used to evaluate the unit’s reaction and response to forced outages or unanticipated drops in load.”
Officials said that if there are outages, they will take place during peak load times, most likely during the early evening hours, but the outages will be short since the plant’s reserves will be tapped to recover any lost generation. WAPA will also be advising the public of any required service interruptions.
The commissioning of the unit on Tuesday follows work that began in 2013 with a contract signing between Vitol Virgin Islands Corp and WAPA. Over the last couple years, the project has included the development of liquefied propane gas terminals at both St. Thomas and St. Croix power plants and the conversion of the generator units in an attempt to reduce the territory’s dependence on oil.
According to officials, once St. Croix’s Unit 20 is fully working, it will stay on line and begin generating electricity for residents and businesses.
“Beginning on Sunday, the Mercaptan supply system will be made available as an additive to the propane feed into WAPA’s facility,” Friday’s news release said. “This process could likely result in a nuisance odor.”
WAPA said Mercaptan is a “harmless, pungent-smelling gas” used to odorize gaseous substances that are odorless and colorless, such as propane and natural gas, for easier detection.
A pre-commissioning meeting will take place Monday morning between WAPA and various stakeholders, which will allow for a final rundown of what needs to be done before the unit is started.
On St. Thomas, marine work to include installation of fenders, breasting dolphins and other dock improvements to accommodate the propane shuttle vessels continues, according to the Friday release. Work on the landside will also include the installation of a marine loading arm, which connects the shuttle supply vessel to the LPG terminal at the Randolph Harley Power Plant in Krum Bay.
The ongoing marine work also includes the development of a permanent mooring for the very large gas carrier that is located 5.7 nautical miles southwest of St. Thomas.
“Just this week, the U.S. Coast Guard advised WAPA of its designation and approval of a temporary safety zone around the VLGC mooring location,” Rhymer said Friday. “WAPA anticipates the establishment of a permanent safety zone at this area in the near future once a final rule making process is completed. It is anticipated that similar commissioning of generating units on St. Thomas will begin in August.”