Territory’s energy future discussed

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ST. THOMAS — A three-day workshop to begin the territory’s move away from oil-based energy wrapped up Wednesday.

In April 2009, the territory was chosen as one of three pilot projects for Energy Development in Island Nations — an international partnership with the goal of bringing renewable energy to island nations around the world — and the workshop was part of the process to develop renewable energy sources and better energy policies for the Virgin Islands.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab­oratory is overseeing the pilot project and working with the Virgin Islands.

In February, Gov. John deJongh Jr. set a goal of reducing the territory’s dependence on oil-derived energy by 60 percent by 2025. He also executed a Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of the Interior to provide technical and financial support toward that goal.

The workshop — which was held at the University of the Virgin Islands’ St. Thomas campus Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday — brought together environmental activists, business people, government officials and national experts to discuss the future of energy in the territory.

“This was a very productive week,” V.I. Energy Office Director Bevan Smith Jr. said at a news conference Wednesday.

Workshop participants were split into four “working groups” focusing on four different topics. The topics were: deployment of renewable energy, utility transmission and distribution, energy efficiency in buildings, and energy efficiency in transportation.

Mary Werner, executive manager of integrated deployment at the National Renewable Energy Lab­oratory, said the workshop was the first step in a long process, and the end result should be the implementation of renewable energy facilities that will feed the territory’s grid. But before that can happen, Werner said, a lot of data must be collected.

The groups will continue to work together, she said. They will meet via conference call every other week and will meet in person three times a year. The pilot project is federally funded, and travel costs will be paid for.

“These were kick-off meetings,” Werner said. “One of the things we talked about was who’s missing.”

Werner said if there are segments of the V.I. population that should be represented in the working groups, they will be invited to join the process.

Hawaii began the process two years ago, and the state is making headway in adding renewable energy sources to the grid. Werner said, like Hawaii, the Virgin Islands faces a serious challenge — separate islands have separate grids, and interconnection is a key part of the discussion.

Water and Power Authority Executive Director Hugo Hodge Jr. said a Request for Proposals will go out next week seeking a company to conduct a feasibility study on connecting the territory to Puerto Rico’s grid.

WAPA also plans to put out an request to add solar energy to the grid.

The V.I. Energy Office currently has an RFP out to do a wind mapping survey for the territory.

Hodge said that the technical assistance provided to WAPA by the National Renewable Energy Lab­oratory as part of the pilot program has already saved the utility money. The federal experts helped to create the requests, which WAPA would have had to pay a consultant to do, he said.

“It’s a great start for us; a lot of good things will come out of this process,” Hodge said. “We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

Dr. Daniel Kammen, a professor of energy at the University of California, Berkeley, helped to lead the workshop. He shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former vice president Al Gore for his work with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Dr. Kenneth Kao, a faculty member of the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, and several technical experts from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory also guided the workshop.

— Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 774-8772 ext. 311 or e-mail alewin@dailynews.vi.



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