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With NREL's Support, USVI Reaches Landmark Solar Deal

June 25, 2012

In February 2010, the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) partnered with the U.S. Departments of Energy and Interior on the Energy Development in Island Nations (EDIN) initiative. The goal was to reduce the territory’s dependence on fossil fuel 60% by 2025. 

Today, thanks to the Energy Department’s financial support and technical assistance from NREL, the islands’ energy landscape is greening.

The Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas boasts one of the largest solar photovoltaic (PV) systems in the Caribbean. Almost 1,500 solar water heating and PV systems have popped up throughout the territory over the past three years. And the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA) has taken bold steps to increase its renewable energy portfolio—including launching a net-metering program that has yielded more than 400 distributed renewable energy projects territory-wide.

Marking the most significant milestone to date, on June 4, 2012, WAPA signed power purchase agreements (PPAs) with three companies for more than 18 MW of solar energy. Over the next year, Toshiba International Corporation, Lanco Virgin Islands, and Sun Edison will invest $65 million installing six solar PV arrays in the USVI.

The PV systems—three on St. Croix and three on St. Thomas—will generate 9 MW of solar power in each district. On St. Croix, that’s nearly 20% of peak demand, representing a groundbreaking level of renewable energy penetration.

"I don't know of another area or jurisdiction anywhere that has that significant a portion of their peak demand in a renewable resource such as solar,” said WAPA Executive Dir. Hugo Hodge Jr. at the signing ceremony. “So this is not only a significant event for the territory but for solar energy everywhere."

Acknowledging NREL’s role in reaching this milestone, Hodge said, "NREL's team of experts is second to none. They have brought their technical expertise to many major aspects of the utility's work, including advice in the issuance and analysis of our successfully completed solar energy RFP.”

Applying the SROPTTC ™ framework developed by D&MT’s Project Development and Finance Group, Dan Olis and Adam Warren helped the utility consider critical project variables and reduce project risk and uncertainty. This effort led to an unprecedented response to the utility's request for proposals (RFP), with 47 developers participating in the information session and 27 submitting formal proposals. NREL’s support included:

  • Identifying rooftop and open space and estimating its technical suitability for PV development
  • Performing analyses—relying in part on performance data collected from the DOE-funded airport PV system—to estimate the amount of PV each island grid could support
  • Assisting WAPA in developing the RFP and offer submittal form
  • Establishing technical requirements for WAPA’s interconnection agreement
  • Conducting a detailed technical review of the 27 proposals.

Director Hodge offered high praise for the leadership NREL provided. "To have competitively achieved the partnership with EDIN and then to have been so ably supported in our quest toward a cleaner energy future here in the territory has been of monumental significance," he said.

—Devin Egan