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 leaseĀ 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.

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