Donoe Bypass solar facility on track to be done in November


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ST. THOMAS - The solar energy facility going in along the Donoe Bypass on St. Thomas is on track to be completed by November, according to the V.I. Water and Power Authority.

The huge area of land cleared to the bare dirt is starting to be covered with shiny black solar panels.

Crews have been working to prepare the land for a few months, and they have been installing the panels for about the last two weeks.

By the time they finish, 17,000 solar panels will be installed at the site.

"It's going well. They are moving well," WAPA Executive Director Hugo Hodge Jr. said Monday. "I'm very pleased with the type of panels they are putting up. They are high-rated panels."

The $20 million solar facility will sell the energy it makes to WAPA, lowering consumers' bills by 3 percent to 5 percent, according to Hodge.

Even though the project is not scheduled to be finished until November, Hodge said consumers will begin to see some change on their October bills. He said one month of the new St. Thomas solar array and two months of the St. Croix solar project have been factored into the reduced LEAC - Levelized Energy Adjustment Clause - petition filed with the Public Services Commission.

The Public Services Commission will decide on the petition in September, Hodge said.

The full savings from the solar projects will be seen in January's bills, according to Hodge.

The project at Donoe will generate about 4.2 megawatts of power; the Toshiba-built solar facility on St. Croix is 4 megawatts.

Hodge said WAPA and Main Street Power, the company hired to build the Donoe facility, have worked out most of the interconnection agreements already. WAPA will build a small substation at the facility to allow the solar energy to be fed into the district's grid, Hodge said.

Even if the substation is not built in time, WAPA has a back-up plan to get the facility connected to the grid in a temporary capacity, prohibiting any delays, Hodge said.

In June 2012, WAPA signed a power purchase agreement with three solar companies to build several facilities territorywide.

One of the contracts that originally was with Lanco Virgin Islands, a subsidiary of Lanco Solar International, was reassigned to Main Street Power Inc., a power purchase agreement provider based in Boulder, Colo.

Main Street Power, with the financial assistance of Morgan Stanley, will fund, develop and maintain the solar power plant for the next 25 years, according to the agreement with WAPA.

The Donoe solar project sits on about 32 acres and will generate 4.2 megawatts of alternating current, which will be fed into the WAPA grid. The solar facility will provide as much as 4 percent to 5 percent of the daytime base load for St. Thomas, according to WAPA.

While there have been concerns about erosion control from the public, DPNR spokesman Jamal Nielsen said the site has been inspected, and best practices for erosion control are in place.

The site must be free from any shade in order to maximize the solar panels' power production, but the developer plans to plant vegetation to hold the soil in place and make the solar array area more aesthetically pleasing.

Each solar panel is a 300-watt module, and about 17,000 of them will be installed at a "fixed tilt." The panels are made in China and are built to withstand hurricane force winds.

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

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