Feb. 20, 2005 – When Dr. LaVerne Ragster became president of the University of the Virgin Islands, she asked herself how the university could use alternative energy sources. UVI already had energy saving measures in place on its campuses, such as solar water heaters and lights, but Ragster stepped it up even more. For example, occupancy sensors were installed for lighting and cooling rooms, and VendingMisers were placed on all the vending machines. In just two years, energy use on campus went down almost a million kilowat hours a year, but the electric bill continued to rise.
"It felt like we were swimming against the current," said Patrick O'Donnell, UVI's director of facilities.
They discovered that although the small steps were helping, the biggest answer to the energy problem was blowing in the wind.
At a press conference Monday, Ragster and O'Donnell announced that UVI is poised to become one of the first universities in the world to incorporate an on-campus wind turbine to generate a substantial portion of its electrical power. While remaining a customer of the V.I. Water and Power Authority, the proposed "behind the fence" power distribution system will permit the electricity generated by a wind turbine to reduce the amount of power presently supplied by WAPA.
Data has been piling up for more than a year from three wind testing stations, two on St. Thomas and one on St. Croix. UVI has joined with USVI Wind, Inc., a division of EMI, Inc. of Boston, to determine the feasibility of erecting and operating a 1.5 megawatt wind turbine at a site on the St. Thomas campus. The GE 1.5se model wind turbine would be the first in the Caribbean, and could generate over a third of the electrical needs of the St. Thomas campus.
Ragster said the 200 foot tower "will change the way the campus looks, but what I hope it will do is change the way the territory looks at energy use."
According to O'Donnell, energy produced by the wind turbine will reduce the fossil fuel consumption by 5,400 barrels of oil a year. Put another way, that's the equivalent of permanently removing 900 cars from island roads.
Energy produced from the turbine will immediately cut down on the $1.5 million UVI spends on its electric bill every year. "We pay a certain amount every month. When this thing kicks in, we pay less," said O'Donnell.
The total cost of the project is $3 million. O'Donnell said they are trying to arrange an agreement for UVI to not have to put up any money up front. They are looking for partnerships with companies such as USVI Wind, Inc., and GE to be mutually beneficial. O'Donnell estimates the wind turbine will pay for itself in about seven years, freeing up money for other uses.
"Every penny that goes to electricity, it's money I don't have to pay faculty or do things for students," said Ragster.
UVI representatives have met with General Electric, as well as specialists in turbine installation and operation. Meetings were also held with local contractors, engineers, and Crowley and Tropical Shipping, to figure out the logistics of delivering and erecting the components. Preliminary meetings have been held with WAPA's Executive Director Alberto Bruno-Vega, who Ragster says is excited about the turbine. Meetings have also been held with interested UVI faculty, staff and students to answer questions.
A series of town-hall meetings will answer questions and concerns from community members. The first community meeting is scheduled for noon on Thursday in Room 101 of the Teacher Education Building on the St. Thomas Campus. The second will take place at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 1, on the second floor mezzanine of the Sports and Fitness Center.
UVI's board of trustees is expected to give approval for the turbine at its meeting on March 12, and the goal is to have the turbine in place and operating before the end of this calendar year.
Also this year, wind-monitoring stations will be installed on the St Croix to analyze the wind power opportunities on that campus.
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