U.S. Virgin Islands Makes the Top 3
According to the last electric bill I paid, the Territory of the U.S Virgin Islands now holds the number three spot for the most expensive commercial electricity rate in the world at $.53 kWh. And, that was before the recent approval of an increase was announced by WAPA in mid-November. It’s a horse race, by golly, with the Solomon Islands (of PT 109 fame) firmly in the lead with a cost of $.87 kWh.
But, the battle for second is on a par with Man o’ War‘s near victory over Upset in the Sanford Memorial in 1918. He started facing the wrong way, you might recall, but only lost by half a length.
At the time of this writing, the residents of the island nation of Tonga pay 58 cents per kilowatt hour and lead us by a nose. That notwithstanding, I’d say we’ve already stepped into number two.
By the way, in Bhutan (the “Happiest Nation on Earth”),
ratepayers enjoy a utility rate of $.02 kWh.
In June, Gov. John P. deJongh outlined an impressive mandate to the Territory: to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels 60% by 2025. Details of his remarks to an energy conference can be found at the Government House website: http://www.governordejongh.com/blog/2012/06/governor-discusses-territorys-renewable-energy-leadership.html . A variety of strategies are to be employed, among them the possible creation of an under-sea cable from Puerto Rico, power-plant conversion to natural gas, large-scale solar power generation, and other alternative energy production methods, including bio-mass and wind.
VI Partners with EDIN and NREL
The plan, a seriously bold initiative by any measure, was conceived by a consortium of energy experts, business leaders and government officials that came together under the guidance of Energy Development in Island Nations (EDIN) and the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
By far the largest portion, 38%, is to be realized by “energy efficiency”
Energy efficiency means a lot of different things. Described as “low-hanging fruit” by NREL’s Karen Petersen, energy efficiency makes up the largest portion of the plan, at 38%. Upgrading the WAPA generators so that they produce power better is an example. Turning off a light is another. However, there’s a difference between CAPITAL INVESTMENT in infrastructure and CONSERVATION. One costs money, the other doesn’t. Ms. Petersen suggested turning the thermostat up in the Territory’s hotels. While that is sure to save money, there is another cost incurred: COMFORT.
Sedna Aire VI solar-assisted air conditioning systems cost up to 58% less to operate AND work better than conventional AC technology. Imagine cutting the air conditioning portion of the Territory’s energy consumption in half! That kind of energy conservation will help make the Governor’s goal possible!
One has to wonder why,
six weeks before the Presidential election, we read about another large Government-funded solar start-up. But, this article (by Nichola Groom, Reuters) reports on a $197M loan offered to an Oregon-based company called SoloPower. Such news is sure to raise the specter of Solyndra, the California solar panel manufacturer that has become the poster child of President Obama’s so-called “crony Capitalism”.
Such political intrigue ignores the fact that the oil industry has enjoyed trillions of dollars of government largesse in its hundred year history. Add in the short- and long-term costs of oil-inspired wars and Solyndra’s half-billion default looks like penny-ante stuff. True, the world runs on oil. But, to denigrate an entire technology based on a failed financial scheme is myopic thinking of the highest order.
Solyndra was conceived and touted as an alternative to an alternative, which had still to prove itself as the definitive answer to our energy woes. Reaping free electricity from the sun, remarkably, has as many detractors as proponents. The viability of the solar industry relies on so many factors, that to re-invent the wheel at a time of financial and commodity supply fluctuations seems foolhardy to me. Solyndra failed, not because Obama’s friends siphoned the money off into their Cayman Island bank accounts, but because the innovative design was reliant upon a steady supply of silicon at a fixed price, not to mention a steady supply of venture capital, both of which are in questionable supply.
Should the US Government promote the solar industry through grants, loans and tax incentives? Of course they should. But, I argue that those supports should be extended to the companies that already exist, the manufacturing processes that have already proven themselves and the consumers who are green from the reflected light of a million leaves not a million dollars.
Solar Jeff has started another training program for a local young person. With our island’s abundance of solar energy potential, we are perfectly situated to grow our local solar businesses. At the same time, our young people lack the skills and opportunities to enter this valuable field. As a long-time resident, I feel the obligation to pass my knowledge on to deserving local kids. This program is mostly self-funded, with help from an online resource called indiegogo. Visit http://www.indiegogo.com/solarjobtraining?show_todos=true&a=1309878 to contribute.
Is that the sun rolling across our tropical sky,
or the biggest pie you ever saw? The Town Meeting on August 30 gave us more than just a needed break from the twin disasters of Hurricane Isaac and the Republican Convention. It brought together a constellation of civic leaders, energy experts, local business owners and curious residents, including WAPA CEO Hodge, VI Energy Office Director Knight and the ubiquitous Senator Barshinger. And, as the Executive Director of Palo Alto-based Clean Coalition, Craig Lewis, explained his plan for a “smart grid” on St. John, the audience response was unusually favorable. As touted, the project would allow for a power-purchase arrangement that would serve as a model for the rest of the country.
The overall concept utilizes decentralized power generation, in this case solar power, battery storage and safe energy regulation, combining a renewable resource and a “smart grid”. For a thorough explanation, visit the Clean Coalition website.
The numbers were nicely projected on a bed-sheet and we can assume that they bear some relation to reality. It was explained that, were residents so inclined, they could invest in the projected $45M project and get a tidy return on their money. Lacking that, we were informed, “outside” investors would be happy to finance the construction. And, of course, there is always the chance of a nice Federal grant.
Of course, we’ve heard rosy scenarios before. Alpine Energy was going to deliver us cheap power in exchange for the garbage we didn’t want. Obviously, there’s no comparison between the two plans, except an implied urgency, judging from the proposed timeline: Ready to build by April 2013, up and running by the end of the same year.
The United States lags behind many European countries when it comes to the combination of renewable resources and “smart grid” technology. It’s not science fiction. We, here on St. John, have an abundance of sunlight, which is the free fuel that can reduce our dependence on imported oil. We would make an ideal model for future, larger-scale projects. The question is: Can we procure a 20-year lease on a tract of suitable land upon which to erect and maintain a 20-acre-plus solar farm?
That’s our challenge. If the National Park was a better neighbor, we could break ground tomorrow. But, of course we’d have an educational complex under construction, as well. So, it falls to the public and the few sizable landowners to come up with a location (or several smaller locations) without offending the “n-i-m-b-y” instincts of others. It’s a tall order. Can we unite and cooperate for the benefit of all? That remains to be seen.
The results are in…
WAPA bills from TWO MORE INSTALLATIONS are substantiating the claims of energy savings. Early this summer, Sedna Aire VI, sold two 5-ton central split SOLAR-ASSISTED AIR CONDITIONING systems to two different customers on St. John. One was a private homeowner who was tired of paying over $2,000 per month for electricity. The other installation was at Sam and Jack’s Deli, where afternoon temperatures were approaching 95 degrees.
These have been the hottest months of the hottest year on record, so everybody is concerned about cooling costs, which can easily account for half of an average monthly bill. As a solar provider, SOLAR JEFF company policy is to FIRST reduce consumption. That’s why we feel this technology is so important. “It’s always a matter of money,” says Jeff. “Savings methods that return the investment in two years are twice as worthwhile as those that pay-back in four years”.
Now, after the bills have come, the savings are evident. The homeowner was astounded to see that his charges were reduced by more than the expected 58%. Additionally, he reports, the equipment runs quieter, less frequently and better than the system it replaced. Anyone who wants to check the results at Sam and Jack’s Deli (on the second-floor of the Marketplace) should stop in and order a delicious lunch or take-out dinner, and sit inside in truly air-conditioned comfort.
alternative energy options for the VI
The average price of a kilowatt-hour of electricity in the United States is about ten cents. For a Virgin Island resident, regularly forking over nearly five times that amount, the dreaded “WAPA” bill is an increasing concern. A good number of businesses close each year due to sky-high energy prices. These are difficult economic times, made even more so by rising operating costs. The impact on families can be crippling.
Why is it so? Who’s to blame? And, what can be done about it? There is no easy answer and no evil bureaucrat to point the finger at. But, there are things that can be done to ease the burden.
To understand why our costs are so high, we need to review our history. In colonial times the main sources of energy were human, animal, wood and wind. By the latter half of the nineteenth century, increased demand and the advent of the steam engine required the importation of coal to the islands. Military expansion led to the creation of huge coaling stations. Imported oil replaced coal as the energy source of choice in the first quarter of the twentieth century. And there we languished until the 1970’s. Hess Oil opened the refinery on St. Croix in 1973 and it grew to become one of the largest in the world.
Hess Oil (and later, HOVENSA) played a profound role in our current addiction to diesel-powered energy. Corporate and Governmental partnership is a reality. Suffice to say, it was as easy to rely on Hess oil to lubricate our economy, as it was to put gas in our tanks. Now that HOVENSA has closed, our energy future is increasingly uncertain.
In the late 1970’s solar energy was introduced to the Territory. But, money rules the universe and despite the valiant efforts of a handful of idealists, the relatively high up-front cost of alternative energy systems limited their widespread use. Until recent years, it was mostly off-the-grid pioneers who utilized solar and wind power. That changed gradually as prices rose, and then big-time as a result of President Obama’s Stimulus Act which reduced the cost to the consumer by as much as 50%. Now, with the rebate money spent, we’re faced with an even more posing dilemma.
This is not just a local issue. Had American public policy been dictated by innovators and futurists, rather than politicians and businessmen, our energy landscape might look different today. But, Reagan took Carter’s panels off the White House roof, the Saudis are our friends and “alternative” means running a pipeline across the Nebraska aquifer.
Now, we sit sequestered on our little island wondering how to pay our WAPA bills. What can we do to lower those bills? Should we apply for home improvement loans to buy solar panels? Or, should we turn everything off? The answer, as is usually the case, is a combination of both PRO and CON: production and conservation.
The simplest solution is to consume less. This can be as easy as flicking a switch when leaving a room. Limiting the hours of operation of an appliance will reduce its cost, obviously. Incandescent light bulbs and CFLs should be replaced with LED bulbs. The former waste electricity, and the latter are dangerous if improperly disposed of. This simple step is relatively inexpensive, good for the environment and saves money. Insulation of hot water pipes is a cheap and easy DYI savings solution. Weatherization, in the form of improved windows, caulking and airflow can make a big difference in cooling a home.
Our islands receive an abundant amount of solar “thermal” energy. Every house should have a solar water-heater. New building codes work toward that goal. The sun’s energy can heat a swimming pool, too, resulting in significant gas or electric savings. A recent innovation in air conditioning technology utilizes this free thermal energy to reduce electrical costs by more than half.
Other forms of energy production are more complicated and expensive, but still worthwhile. Units of sunlight called photons can be converted to electricity. This photo-voltaic (PV) process will soon be utilized by WAPA to offset up to 15% of demand. The up-front cost of residential PV-generation is substantial, but the return on investment is attractive to many who can afford it.
Wind power is largely impractical for most of us because of our terrain. Strong, steady wind is found high above the ground or treetops and is thus largely inaccessible. Offshore installations are a large-scale solution, unavailable to the consumer. However, these “wind-fields” are being built by energy companies and communities all over the world. Write your Senator.
Certain aspects of our future can be predicted. The cost of WAPA is unlikely to go down. The sun is expected to shine and the wind to blow.
And, now that you’re done reading… turn off your computer.
The inconvenient truth of the USVI’s energy future is either grim or unknown,
depending on who you talk to. Nobody can predict the future and it would be unfair to blame the perilous status of our islands (as it relates to energy) on any one entity or person. But, then again, it doesn’t take Nostradamus to see that the storm clouds have been gathering for some time.
Our leaders have perennially kicked the can down the road, expecting great things from the next Governor or the next Legislature, and allowing the status quo to continue. This is not just a local thing. Our Federal leaders are our model when it comes to governance and they’ve pretty much driven the bus into a ditch, too. The un-sustainability of the way we live is catching up with us. Have we reached the tipping point?
When Hovensa announced they were closing up shop, our elected leaders claimed they were taken completely by surprise. Are they lying? Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say simply that they didn’t see it coming.
But even a modestly informed newspaper-reader knows about the numerous EPA infractions at the refinery. And the age and design of the plant itself. And the new Hess refinery down-island. And about the volatile worldwide energy market. And the finite supply of crude oil. And terrorists. And speculators. And the recession. And…
OK. So, the best we can say is that our leaders were woefully oblivious to reality and therefore allowed the tipping point to become a real possibility.
You and I require gas to drive our cars and electricity to light our homes. Hovensa announced that, along with shutting down the refinery and putting hundreds of Cruzians out of work, it would no longer supply discount fuel to the islands. Yes, it seems that besides paying the highest energy cost under a US flag, we have also been getting a deal on it. It sounds too absurd to be true, but it’s not.
Gov. deJongh has somehow encouraged Hovensa to extend the supply through the end of the year, but we have yet to see even a ray of sunshine on the horizon. On March 16, WAPA requested bids for the supply of #2 and #6 fuel oil. That’s what they need to keep the generators running. Thirty-seven sources were contacted. One replied. Read the VI Source article here.
The Chinese have an ancient curse: May you live in interesting times. That’s what it says in our fortune cookie.
Everybody knows that a solar panel exposed to sunlight makes electricity. Everybody knows that their WAPA bills are cripplingly high. Everybody would like FREE ELECTRICITY. But, does it make sense financially to install expensive solar panels on your roof?
The link below will guide you through the decision-making process, from a purely financial standpoint. In reality, a solar energy system is a “performing asset” with a quantifiable RETURN ON INVESTMENT.
SEDNA AIRE VI solar-assisted air conditioning systems for commercial use are now available in the US and British Virgin Islands.
The same WAPA savings that residential customers enjoy (up to 58%) can be realized by the use of this revolutionary technology. These ducted units carry a full warranty on parts and labor. And, as summer approaches, remember:
the hotter it gets, the better it works.
SOLAR JEFF is the exclusive distributor of SEDNA AIRE VI in the Islands. Call today for technical details, testimonials and information about energy savings.
For installations on St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John, Tortola or Virgin Gorda you now have the ability to use the certified air conditioning installer of your choice.
Check out this video, provided by our stateside counterparts.