Virgin Islands Switching From Oil to Sunshine
While the V.I. Water and Power Authority has been seeking ways to tap into alternative energy for years, residents have been pounding on the power company’s door for months trying to sell it solar power on a small scale. WAPA opened that door on Feb. 9.
WAPA and V.I. Energy Office presented an agreement to the Public Services Commission on Feb. 9, 2007 on how WAPA could begin net metering for residents. The PSC gave its approval to the proposal.
Bevan R. Smith Jr., director of the V.I. Energy Office, has been advocating the program for years. He says that with this agreement approved, residents should be able to pick up applications for the program in March. The Energy Office has already certified 10 solar sites to participate.
Smith said, “This is just the beginning. We have been hearing from many residents who want to participate. And, as more residents learn how well solar works and how it can cut down their WAPA bills, we expect to hear from a lot more.”
He said, as the agreement now stands, about 5,000 homes on St. Croix and 10,000 homes on St. Thomas should be able to participate if the systems are one kilowatt or less. If the wind and solar system are larger the number of allowed participants will decrease.
Residents who put energy into the system will receive a credit on their monthly utility bills, calculated on how much energy they supplied WAPA.
If customers produce the same amount of energy they get from WAPA, their bills would be zero. If a resident generates more power than used from WAPA, the utility would credit the excess at the retail rate. If the customer still has a credit at the end of the year, it will be erased.
In other words, the customer will be able to use WAPA to bank energy and the customer can avoid the purchase of batteries. The customer, however, during this initial period will not earn money off WAPA.
The federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 required utility-regulating bodies to discuss net metering and to determine its appropriateness.
Forty states and Washington, D.C., have approved the use of net meters. However, no territorial policy existed covering the metering of privately generated electricity and selling unused power to WAPA prior to Feb. 9.
Smith gave the first of several presentations to the Commission at its retreat in September 2006. His report was greeted with skepticism by Alberto Bruno-Vega, executive director of WAPA. Bruno-Vega hypothesized that net metering would only benefit the rich and put a burden on the poor. After several discussions between Smith and Bruno-Vega; Bruno-Vega too became a proponent of net meeting.
Bruno-Vega at the October PSC meeting, where Smith made a second presentation, said he “wholeheartedly supported net metering.”
The Public Services Commission at its December meeting decided that since WAPA and the Energy Office were in agreement that WAPA should write a document that outlines all the terms and conditions.. That document, allowing residents to sell excess power generated by their solar systems back to WAPA at its retail rate, was written and approved on Feb. 9
This agreement covers systems that are producing 10 kilowatts or less.
Smith has reminded the WAPA board on several occasions that another agreement will have to be arrived at concerning larger power producers. The concept concerning system producing more than 10 kWs is generally referred to distributive generation and can be negotiated through an Interconnectivity agreement. This agreement which, will open the door to other energy sources besides wind and sun, may be more complicated than the net metering agreement for the small suppliers.
The net metering agreement is being adopted for a trial, one-year period.
Giving support to net metering in the Virgin Islands was a recommendation included in a report from the Department of Interior during the summer. The Energy Assessment report said in its executive summary, “There is little opportunity for off-grid solar PV but with the high price of WAPA power, grid connected PV is getting close to being competitive. To encourage private investment in grid connected PV, it is recommended that WAPA adopt true net metering (energy going into the grid is the same price as energy from the grid) for private, household PV installations of 10 kWs and smaller. Without net metering, private investment in solar at the household level is much less cost effective since most of the solar energy is produced in the middle of the day when household use is typically low. With net metering, the PV system feeds surplus energy into the grid and helps offset the mid-day load peak; then, at night, the house load draws that ‘banked’ energy back from the grid as needed in the home. For household grid connected PV, it is unlikely that the house system will generate more energy than is used by the household so the end effect is energy conservation for the house, not a mini Independent Power Provider selling power to WAPA.”
Many residents have contacted the Energy Office, since reading media reports about the net metering agreement, saying that they want to be part of the program.
Smith said applications will be available in March.
For the news story in the VI Source click here.