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Island Countries and Energy Challenges

By Anna Simet | August 16, 2013

Today we’re putting to bed the September issue of Biomass Magazine, the energy crop and algae issue. I’m really looking forward to it reaching the hands of our readers, because its chalk full of great, on-theme stories.

One of my favorites is in the biogas section, where I discuss Tibbar Energy’s biogas project in the U.S. Virgin Island’s St. Croix, with CEO Tania Tomyn. While working on the article, my eyes were really opened to the energy challenges that island countries face (extremely high electricity costs, full fossil fuel reliance/imports).

As I point out in the story, about a year and a half ago, the Hovensa Oil refinery in St. Croix closed, citing low natural gas prices and reduced oil demand as reasons. It was one of the largest refineries in the world, and put over 2,000 people on the island (direct and indirect jobs) out of work. Not to mention, resulted in a $60 million loss in government revenue.

Since then, the island has descended into a pretty serious energy crisis, and is scrambling to find ways to generate cheaper energy (right now USVI residents pay about 47 cents per kilowatt hour). What better way to do so than to use resources already existing on the island, a characteristic common in renewable energy projects.

While Tibbar’s project is growing a fast-growing energy grass for use in a digester—as well as fats, oils, greases and food waste—to produce power, there are other types of projects—different technologies and feedstocks—that island countries (or states) can implement to ease their energy woes. For example, Hu Honua Bioenergy is a 25-MW biomass power plant under development in Hawaii. It’s planning to use fast-growing eucalyptus trees as feedstock, and is working with the University of Hawaii’s Tropical Agriculture specialists to find other alternative appropriate feedstocks. Impressively, this plant will produce 10 percent of the island’s electricity needs.

Another example is in Cuba. In June, the government announced it is building a 20-MW biomass power plant to be fuelled with sugarcane bagasse, as it will be co-located with an existing sugar plant. In Japan, Shell just announced it would turn an existing, closed oil refinery into a 49-MW biomass power plant.

The projects above are good examples of islands taking advantage of their climate, existing resources and infrastructure to develop power projects. Many are really vamping up their renewable energy plans, and have very lofty goals. While these kinds of projects will help alleviate many of the energy challenges they face, particular the reduction of reliance on imported fossil fuels, they are also much cleaner, and will help preserve the beauty that so many islands possess.