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Meteorological tower, part of wind energy project, collapses

ST. THOMAS – One piece of a V.I. Energy Office project to investigate the potential for generating wind energy in Bovoni literally fell apart last week after a 197-foot meteorological tower collapsed.

The tower, one of two in the Bovoni area financed through the Energy Office, lay in several bent pieces Dec. 14 on a hill behind the Bovoni dump.

Energy Office Director Karl Knight said the tower “failed” Dec. 13 as California-based WeatherFlow was working to erect it. According to Knight, the Energy Office still is investigating the cause of the failure, but preliminary information is that a winch failed as it was slowly raising the tower.

Knight said the tower carried very sensitive equipment that now will have to be re-calibrated or replaced before the tower can be raised.

“Any time it hits the ground, that stuff gets out of whack,” Knight said.

Because a similar tower already is functioning nearby in Bovoni, the Energy Office decided after the second tower collapsed to focus its efforts on raising two towers at sites on St. Croix.

The land where the tower fell belongs to Bovoni Property 17 LLC, according to property manager Michael Bornn.

Bornn, who helped bring a massive photovoltaic project to V.I. Montessori School and International Academy where he is head of school, said he initially met with representatives from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory about bringing windmills to Bovoni about four years ago.

Since then, the laboratory and the Energy Office have been trying to install meteorological equipment to gather data about the feasibility of constructing wind turbines in Bovoni, according to Bornn.

The Energy Office received stimulus funds to begin the assessment, according to a September report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The towers are supposed to gather data for 12 to 24 months.

“The initial take was there would be enough wind out there, but you can’t finance a project on an initial take, on a whim and a wish,” Bornn said. “You need 18 months of data.”

Bornn said he discovered the collapsed tower by chance on a trip to the site Dec. 14. He said no one from the Energy Office contacted him until Dec. 15, after he left seven messages at the office.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory report, two sites in Bovoni were identified as having wind-energy potential – one on government property and one on the property managed by Bornn.

Bovoni “represents a reasonable compromise in terms of wind resource, distance from residences, and developable terrain,” according to the report.

The report also identifies two sites on St. Croix, at Robin Bay and Estate Longford, as having high potential for wind energy.

About $270,000 is allocated for the total data-gathering part of the project at all of the sites, according to Knight.

The Bovoni site should be able to produce 7,000 to 29,000 megawatt-hours of electricity per year, according to the report. The report estimates the final price for the power will range from 7 cents to 30 cents per kilowatt-hour, though it cites data from two recent wind projects in Aruba and Jamaica that suggest a narrower range of between 10 and 20 cents per kilowatt-hour.

With the most recent rate increase from the V.I. Water and Power Authority, residential customers will be paying about 50 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity starting in January.

Installing a 5- to 13-megawatt wind turbine project in Bovoni is expected to cost between $12 million and $36 million, according to the report.

Initial reviews of the Bovoni site suggest that public resistance to the project – “apart from some visual impacts that might generate opposition” – is likely to be “relatively low due to the distance between occupied structures and the majority of the likely turbine sites,” according to the report.

Financial backing, or a power-purchase agreement, from WAPA is crucial for the Bovoni wind project to become a reality, according to the report.

“As the exclusive near-term utility-scale generation off-taker in the territory, WAPA must also be engaged and involved in potential efforts to move a wind projects forward,” the report states. “Without direct WAPA investment or willingness to enter a PPA, no utility-scale wind power will be built in the near term.”

WAPA spokeswoman Cassandra Dunn referred questions about the tower’s collapse to the Energy Office.

Knight said the wind project overall is still in its early stages but is a sign the Energy Office and WAPA are making good on their promise to ramp up the territory’s renewable-energy efforts.

“By this time next year, there’ll be some real discussions on wind energy in the Virgin Islands,” Knight said.