Company to study feasibility of building ocean thermal energy power plant in V.I.


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ST. THOMAS - A private company will conduct a feasibility study at its own expense to see whether the territory can sustain a power plant that uses the temperature fluctuations of the ocean to generate energy.

The Senate and Ocean Thermal Energy Corporation signed a memorandum of understanding Wednesday for the company to conduct a study to evaluate the feasibility of installing ocean thermal power plants and seawater air conditioning facilities in the territory.

Ocean Thermal Energy Corporation will be paying for and conducting the study.

If the results of the study are positive and the Senate and the central government are interested in developing an ocean thermal energy conversion plant, it would go out to bid.

Ocean thermal energy conversion technology uses the difference between the warm ocean surface temperatures and cold deep sea temperatures to generate electricity. Energy production is low impact, reliable and cheap, according to the company.

The technology can also produce potable water from sea water.

Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone said the memorandum of understanding is one result of the V.I. Renewable and Alternative Energy Act of 2009 and the agreement's drafting was authorized last year by Resolution 1795.

Similar studies recently were conducted in Guam and Hawaii, but those were paid for in large part by federal grants through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Energy. Ocean Thermal Energy Corporation estimates that it will cost more than $1 million to conduct the necessary research, which should be completed by the end of the year, according to Malone.

Company representatives said Wednesday that the study will depend on the cooperation of the V.I. Water and Power Authority and the Environmental Protection Agency to supply data.

Sen. Nereida Rivera-O'Reilly was skeptical that WAPA would be helpful, but Ocean Thermal Energy Corporation executives said they are not concerned.

During a Committee of the Whole meeting Wednesday afternoon, the group gave a presentation on preliminary findings and what the study hopes to accomplish.

The company has been measuring water temperatures and looking for potential sites for a power plant.

Ted Johnson, Head of OTEC Programs, said the study would look at a number of options, including a land-based plant - with pipes running down into the deep, cold water - or a floating plant.

"The USVI is just rippling with energy, it's all around you," Johnson said.

On St. Croix, Ocean Thermal Energy Corporation has looked at potential sites in Salt River and Rust Op Twist.

Johnson said the Salt River location could support a 14-megawatt power plant.

"As we get real data and we do the study, we'll be able to get real numbers, but this is kind of a first cut," he said.

Sen. Myron Jackson asked about other locations where these power plants are working.

Johnson said no commercial plants have been developed yet, but research and development plants - small scale versions of a power plant - have been in operation in Japan, Hawaii, China and Korea.

- Contact Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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