Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority enters contract for generation units, storage system

The Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority has entered into a $75 million contract with Wartsila for the engineering, procurement, and construction of four new generators, and a battery storage system at the Randolph Harley Power Plant.  

The units, which will provide an additional 36 megawatts of capacity, and the energy storage system are slated to be fully operational in early 2022, the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority reported on July 21.

Utilizing 100% federal monies provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Authority booked the order for the new generators and battery system in June, noted Lawrence Kupfer, Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority.

The new units can burn both propane and light fuel oil.

“Not only do these units build on the 21 megawatts of propane-fired units now in use at the Harley power plant, this is the first engine/hybrid power plant undertaking by  our partners at Wartsila, and the first installation of the company’s LG engines which are capable of burning the two fuel types,” Kupfer said.

Once these units are online, the power plant will operate more efficiently and reliably on 100% propane, a less costly fuel source, the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority said.

The battery storage system, slated to provide 9-MW of electricity for up to two hours, will be used for plant stabilization when an interruption occurs, and avoids bringing an additional unit online to satisfy electrical demand.

“We are confident that the seven Wartsila generators will contribute to improved system reliability while providing additional fuel and operational flexibility that increases efficiency and lowers overall operating costs. Lower operating costs and a more efficient operation will lead to rate reductions for our customers,” Kupfer said.

The new units will also allow the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority to end its generator lease and start the decommissioning of older, less reliable units which only operate on more expensive oil sources.

Once the Harley power plant becomes more efficient, with the Wartsila units dispatched and fully on liquid petroleum gas fuel, the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority anticipates that electric rates can be lowered by four cents per kilowatt hour. 

Also, having more than 57 MW of efficient and reliable generation capacity “bodes well for our customers and for the future growth of the St. Thomas – St. John district,” the Authority said.

HUD has also authorized WAPA to use its share of grant funding to satisfy local match requirements on other mitigation projects that are now in the works, Kupfer noted.

In addition to securing additional generation capacity for the power plants, the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority is tapping federal funds for approved projects that include undergrounding of transmission and distribution electrical feeders, installing more resilient composite poles, and providing standby generators on St. John. 

 Once completed, these projects will provide for a more timely and efficient restoration of the electrical system following windstorm events, Kupfer said.