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Energy Office Testing the Winds as Power Source


Sept. 19, 2005 –V.I. residents might find, like Bob Dylan sang, "The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind."
Residents have been hit hard by the rising costs of power this year. From elderly people on fixed income to owners of small resorts, they have felt the economic pinch.
Peter Locke, owner of Chenay Beach Resort says, "My power bill went up somewhere between 60 and 70 percent just this year. How do you budget for something like that? My rates are already set. I can't just tack a $50 surcharge for power on a guest's bill."
The rising cost of oil has fueled the increases in the Water and Power Authority bills and, simultaneously, fueled a search for an alternative energy sources.
So when Bevan Smith, V.I. Energy Office director, announced a cost/benefit analysis to determine the viability of wind turbines systems in the Virgin Islands, he had WAPA Executive Director Alberto Bruno-Vega's attention.
Bruno-Vega, who said WAPA has a working relationship with the V.I. Energy Office, was one of about a dozen people who were on top of a hill over looking Divi Bay Casino Saturday, checking out devices that could determine whether wind will make a comeback as an energy source on St. Croix.
He said Monday, "I believe this is a very, very exciting beginning for the renewable sources of energy for the Virgin Islands." He said there would definitely be a mix –solar and wind – in the future power supply for the islands.
Smith said the questions the Energy Office was asking and hoping to get answered by the devices included: "Is there really enough wind to make available to WAPA a percentage of its energy requirements on an intermittent basis? If so, where is it and what is its frequency?"
The tower on St. Croix is one of three mounted with devices gathering data on wind. The St. Croix tower had to be erected, but the devices were attached to existing towers on Crown Mountain, St. Thomas; and on Bordeaux Mountain, St. John. Each tower has devices measuring wind 10 meters and 30 meters above ground level.
Energy Answers of Christiansted was the main contractor for the project and Sustainable Systems & Design International is providing technical service for the project.
Onaje Jackson, president of SSDI, said, "It is very easy to set up a wind farm that will fail and give this maligned industry another black eye. This project is about not letting that happen."
Also at the site was Margo Guda from Curacao. Her island has two wind farms in operation. One has 12 wind turbines and the potential to supply three megawatts of power; the other has 18 larger turbines and can provide nine megawatts of power.
Patrick Mahoney, president of Energy Answers, said the winds in the Virgin Islands are probably borderline for making the wind turbines "economically attractive." But, he points out, as the price of oil goes up, what once might not have been "economically attractive" could become "economically attractive."
Mahoney said the project had a budget of about $65,000 to get it through the first year. The money came from a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy with matching funds from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, V.I. Energy Office.
Jackson said the data from the devices would be compared with data gathered at the airports this year and in previous years.
He also said that early data indicated what many assumed; the higher one goes up, the stronger the wind.
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