15 November 2011

Puerto Rico - Virgin Islands discuss possible electrical connection; wider Caribbean expansion eyed

Discussions held between Virgin Islands Governor and Puerto Rico Secretary of State

St. Thomas Source

The next steps forward to advance an electrical interconnection project between the territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands dominated a productive meeting between Puerto Rico's Secretary of State, Kenneth McClintock, and Gov. John deJongh Jr. Monday on St. Thomas, according to a statement from Government House.

The 50-mile submarine interconnection between Puerto Rico and St. Thomas, as well as other potential phases of the project, has already undergone a technical feasibility study, and officials from both governments are preparing task forces to outline their mutual needs and consider funding sources.

"We had extremely positive talks today, and both governors’ offices are fully committed to connecting our power grids," deJongh said in the statement. "Together, Governor Luis Fortuno and I will reach out to the White House to ask for assistance in identifying additional federal assets to advance our goal of an electrical interconnection between St. Thomas and Puerto Rico,” deJongh said.

Both U.S. territories rely heavily on imported petroleum products and are seeking alternative energy solutions to reduce costs and protect their natural environments. The small, isolated energy markets inhibit efforts to efficiently employ the Caribbean's abundant wind, solar, and geothermal resources.

By connecting the electrical grids via undersea cables, however, the islands will expand the size of their energy markets and make the development of renewable energy more economically feasible, according to Government House. Puerto Rico could sell its excess capacity to the Virgin Islands, reducing electrical costs for both territories while improving the stability of the grid in the event of a natural disaster.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton both acknowledged the benefits of the project and the even greater potential of a Caribbean-wide electricity grid in remarks they delivered at the 2010 Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA) Ministerial.

At Monday's meeting, deJongh and McClintock discussed suitable funding levels and possible sources—private capital, federal grants, or financing. Officials from both territories have also met with federal officials in Washington, D.C. over the last month and a half to discuss possible technical assistance and funding.

“We need this. Puerto Rico wants it. Now we have to work with all our partners to initiate the process that will one day yield this important, game-changing infrastructure,” deJongh said.

The project is currently being studied by the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority, the Puerto Rico Electrical Power Authority, and both governors’ offices, and officials are in the process of establishing a joint USVI-PR task force, according to Government House. Plans may ultimately include the British Virgin Islands and other Caribbean island nations, deJongh said.

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