When Gov. John deJongh said in April 2009 that he was setting the goal of reducing the consumption of fossil fuel in the Virgin Islands by 60 percent by 2025, it appeared to be an ambitious goal, maybe even too ambitious. But two years later, as we celebrate Earth Day 2011, residents can be assured, although probably not complacent about it, that the islands are moving in the right direction. Wind turbines are dotting the hills on the east end of St. Croix and a couple of major solar projects are almost complete on St. Thomas.
Besides the major solar projects on St. Thomas like the airport 448-kW solar photovoltaic (PV) and the federal building; 79 kW there have been hundreds of smaller PV projects. Also in the last year alone, almost 500 residents have set about installing solar water heaters through a program run by the Energy Office.
The government has played a big part in the flourishing of renewable energy projects on the islands, but a good deal of the energy behind the drive toward beating our dependency on oil has come from residents themselves. Just five years ago, no one in the US Virgin Islands was net metering (sending back to the grid excess energy their wind turbines or solar panels produce). Now 75 residents are producing energy used by the Water and Power Authority and the number is sure to continue to grow as the Energy Office maintains a robust rebate program for renewable energy systems. The Energy Office’s rebate program probably won’t last forever, but as the cost of burning fossil fuel continues to go up and as renewable energy systems become more user friendly, and less costly, the trend toward renewables is going to continue. To illustrate how that trend has been going, here are a couple of facts. In the years between 2001 and 2009, the Energy Office gave rebates for on average for enough panels each year to produce 53kW of power. Last year the Energy Office rebated enough panels to produce 151kWs or three times the old average. The trend is also obvious for wind turbines. In 2007, the Energy Office gave five rebates for turbines. In the first half of this year the Energy Office has already given rebates for eight turbines.
The road has not been without bumps and mishaps. There have been wind turbines put up where there was not adequate wind; solar panels have been placed in areas too shady, and, as there is with any emerging technology, there have been equipment failures. Much of that is in the past for Virgin Islanders as everyone becomes more sophisticated about renewable energy.
Take solar water heaters. They have been around for decades, but most Virgin Islanders 10 years ago had no thoughts about them. Now-a-days, you would be hard put to find someone on the islands who hasn’t installed one or, at least, considered installing one.
Still 60 percent reduction by 2025 is hard to imagine. One of the ways to help residents see how it can be done is by dividing the goal into pieces and showing how the pieces will add up to 60 percent reduction. This is the method that Energy Development in Island Nations(EDIN) is using it its education campaign for the Virgin Islands.
The Virgin Islands is one of three pilot projects for EDIN, an international partnership with the goal of bringing renewable energy to island nations around the world. The U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is overseeing the pilot project and providing technical assistance to local officials. Locally Bevan R. Smith, Jr., director of the Energy Office and Hugo V. Hodge, Jr. executive director, of the Water and Power Authority are co-directors of EDIN USVI Energy Action Team.
Adam Warren PhD, who heads up the team for NREL, presented an outline of how the pieces, or as he calls them – wedges -- will work. He said at an EDIN conference on St. Thomas the first week of April that the territory presently burns about 3 million barrels of oil annually and the goal is to bring that number down to 1.2 million barrels.
The broad wedges are 38 percent of the consumption will be saved through energy efficient methods and 22 percent would come from renewable energy projects. In each of those wedges there are small segments.
Take for instance the energy efficiency segment. Some of that will be taken away the Energy Alliance project now being overseen by the Energy Office. In that project energy conservation work is being done at 11 public schools. Energy Systems Group will do the work through recently-signed, energy-saving, performance contracts with the government. This work focusing on the Department of Education is funded by $6.9 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. That is just one piece of one wedge (energy efficiency – government), but it has already started. Consumption as early as next month should be falling at the first school.
The solar water heater installations are also seen as a piece of the energy efficiency wedge. For Virgin Islanders to meet the goal in that segment, we need to have two out of every five households to have one install. Virgin Islanders can do that.
This is not saying that it is going to be easy to reach the 60 percent by 2025 goal, but it is saying the Virgin Islands, with everyone doing their part, can do it.
Don Buchanan edited weekly and daily newspapers in the States before moving to St. Croix in 2004. His love of coral reefs began in 1969 when in the U.S. Navy, his ship, the U.S.S. Simon Lake, stopped in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba for an extended stay. He still writes and dives the reefs.