Home News Local news Harvesting Ocean Power a Prime Topic at WAPA Retreat

Harvesting Ocean Power a Prime Topic at WAPA Retreat

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Dec. 16, 2006 –The V.I. Water and Power Authority held its fifth-annual governing board retreat recently at Divi Carina Bay Resort, discussing alternative ways to provide energy and save customers money.
The resort's Surf and Coral rooms were packed with representatives from WAPA, Hovensa, the U.S. Department of the Interior and local government representatives, listening attentively as each presenter educated them on energy sources like petroleum (pet) coke — a byproduct of oil refining — and coal, ocean thermal-energy conversion (OTEC), wind, solar and waste-to-energy generation.
Although WAPA has made some recent strides in better service to its customers, one major problem persists, said Daryl "Mickey" Lynch, chairman of the authority's governing board. "Our Achilles' heel remains," said Lynch, the first speaker to address the audience. "How do we reduce electric costs due to the rising cost of foreign fuel?"
Alberto Bruno-Vega, WAPA executive director, answered Lynch's question: "We need to change our mindset." Everybody is trying to save money and become more efficient, including WAPA, Bruno-Vega said: "We need to think of renewable-energy resources. We need to move away from energy that can cause carbon dioxide, such as coal or pet coke."
Ivan Clark, senior director of R.W. Beck, spoke to the audience about pet coke and coal. The needs of the islands would require three generators and two steam-turbine generators on six to eight acres of land, he said.. "It's not inexpensive," Clark said of the more than $405 million dollar project. The size of the facility accounts for its high price, he said.
WAPA has named Hovensa as the immediate source of pet coke on the island. Bruno-Vega pointed out Hovensa's reluctance to join with the authority in the construction of a pet coke-fired power plant. Alex A. Moorhead, Hovensa's executive director, said the key is Hovensa's supply of pet coke to the authority.
"We've agreed to do that," Moorhead said, adding that the company was more than willing to work with WAPA on the venture.
The most immediate change the authority could make would be to use pet coke and coal for the production of electricity, said Nellon Bowry, WAPA's chief financial officer: "We have the land, and the site is available." The convenience of Hovensa is a bonus for the alternative-energy method, he added. The use of pet coke and coal can be a short-term solution until the authority finds other renewable-energy sources, Bruno-Vega said.
Expressing both caution and optimism, Bruno-Vega mentioned sources like wind, solar and waste-to-energy generation. According to his research, the use of solar power could be positive "to the extent that it is feasible," said David Cohen, deputy assistant secretary for the Department of the Interior.
The use of sufficient solar power would require too much space, Bruno-Vega said. A solar power plant would need at least two miles of space, he said, then asked: "Where on St. Thomas or St. John would you find that much space? On St. Croix?"
Wind power, according to Bruno-Vega, is rapidly increasing around the globe. Although the director called the infrastructure for the resource expensive to erect — wind turbines can stand more than 600 feet high, with blades more than 200 feet long — he said wind energy is here to stay: "We better adapt ourselves to the new landscape." The turbines take up minimal space, he said, and there are many places where they could be erected. "Wherever there was a sugar mill, there must have been wind for it to work," he said.
Waste-to-energy generation would utilize an untapped resource on the island. According to Bruno-Vega, the Anguilla landfill is almost at capacity. The waste located on the site represents energy the authority could use to generate electricity, he said. Waste-to-energy generation transforms waste into a valuable commodity: clean, renewable electricity.
The one form of renewable energy on the lips of many at the retreat was OTEC. "I'm extremely proud of ocean thermal-energy conversion," Lynch said in his opening remarks. "Because I think it's one of the most economical aspects of power, because it is coming from the sea." Bruno-Vega seconded the notion, saying this type of energy is "what I believe to be future of the V.I. Oceans have more stored energy that there is fuel in the world."
OTEC uses the heat and cold climates of the ocean to produce electricity. The deep cold water of the ocean can be used to produce air conditioning, electricity and desalinated fresh water, according to Stephen K. Oney, Ph.D, executive director of OCEES International. The technology would aid marine agriculture and could allow for the growth of temporal plants the islands have never been able to grow before, he said. Bruno-Vega told Oney the authority did not currently own the sites his company felt were ideal for erection of OTEC plants — Salt River and Cane Bay — and much construction would be needed to begin the project.
OTEC does seem the most viable way to generate renewable energy on the island, said Senator Shawn Michael Malone. WAPA's public relations efforts should regularly include more information about such alternative-energy sources, he said.
"WAPA has been studying this for years," Malone said. "Educating the public is a highly overlooked strategy." He called the retreat informative and said the most important factor is the environment. "We want to save money," Malone said, "but not at any cost. OTEC serves both."
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