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WAPA Board Approves Caribbean Power Grid Study

With an eye towards a future Caribbean power grid, the V.I. Water and Power Authority governing board authorized $469,000 Thursday to study the feasibility of an interconnection between Puerto Rico, and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.
The study will help analyze the needed configuration, provide preliminary cost estimates and ensure the feasibility of high-voltage direct current over such distances and depths, according to Clinton Hedrington, WAPA’s director of transmission and distribution.
It will also look at whether and how much the interconnection will reduce operational costs, save fuel and cut carbon emissions. And, Hedrington said, it will look at the best routes to lay underwater cables from Fajardo, Puerto Rico, to St. Thomas and several possible routes to Croix.
The St. Croix cable will present the greatest challenges partly because of the undersea terrain, he said.
WAPA selected Siemens Power Tech, Inc., one of six respondents to a Request for Proposal issued in June, to conduct the study.
The $469,000 authorized by WAPA is less than the available funding, which includes a $476,000 federal grant through the U.S. Department of Energy National Energy Technology Laboratory.
WAPA Board member Gerald Groner, who also chairs the board’s Planning Committee, said establishing a power grid between Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands is a first step toward a broader Caribbean electrical grid.
It also opens the possibilities of adding more renewable sources locally, Groner said. For instance, a wider Caribbean grid would allow use of renewable energy from other islands such as Nevis, which is working to develop a geothermal power system.
Groner also touted the proposed grid’s reliability.
"If we get connected to the Puerto Rico Grid, even if only to St. Thomas at first, we will immediately have much more backup and redundancy," Groner said, adding that a big problem with switching to solar and wind is "having a brownout when the wind dies down."
According to WAPA spokeswoman Cassandra Dunn, the study has recently gained national attention and support from high-level federal officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In other WAPA news, the board authorized Hodge to reallocate $2.2 million of the proceeds of the Electric Revenue Bonds Series 2010C originally allocated to other capital improvement projects, with $1.25 million to constructing the Randolph Harley Substation on St. Thomas and $942,000 for work on a generating unit on St. Croix.
The money is through federal stimulus “Build America Bonds” and must be used on qualifying capital improvements before they expire, said WAPA Chief Financial Officer Nellon Bowry.
In other business, the board:
— approved funding of $1.4 million to hire Dresser-Rand corp. for the regular five-year major maintenance inspection, parts and repairs for one of St. Croix’s steam turbines and generators;
–extended a tree-trimming contract with Asplundh Tree Expert Co. 90 days, to keep tree-trimming uninterrupted until after hurricane season. Tree trimming during the extension will cost $212,000 and the entire Asplundh contract cost will be $1.3 million;
— authorized Hodge to negotiate a one-year retainer agreement with Bryan’s Electrical Contracting Corporation of St. Thomas to assist the Authority with emergency restoration services, in the aftermath of a hurricane or other natural disaster.
The board previously authorized negotiations with stateside companies to help restore services, which will be invaluable if damage to service is so severe that local companies are overwhelmed. But having a local company on retainer is also crucial, so companies like Bryan’s Electrical, which have heavy equipment and bucket trucks, are ready to go, with WAPA’s needs coming first, Hodge said.
"Otherwise, we will have to compete to be the highest bidder in the midst of a crisis," he said. "You want as much local help as possible lined up ahead of time. Especially somebody like Bryan, who has bucket trucks and what have you."
Every member present voted yea on each item except Groner, who recused himself from voting in relation to the GEC maintenance contract. The board met in both districts via teleconference.
Present at Thursday’s meeting were Young, Groner, Vice Chair Brenda Benjamin, Noel Loftus and Cheryl Boynes-Jackson. Absent were members Donald Francois, V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Robert Mathes, Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Wayne Biggs and V.I. Personnel Director Kenneth Hermon, Jr.

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