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Solar Water Heater Bill To Get Vote in Full Senate

May 14, 2009 — A long-awaited bill requiring solar hot water in new construction was sent out of the Rules and Judiciary Committee Wednesday for a vote before the full Senate. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Louis P. Hill, spent three solid years in the drafting and review process before hitting the Senate floor last June. Since then, it has been amended to include suggestions provided by the V.I. Water and Power Authority, the V.I. Energy Office and local renewable energy experts.
(See "Energy Bill Powers Through Committee Hearings.")
The bill also sets up rebates and tax incentives for installing solar water heating, wind or solar power generation and legislates net metering, allowing residents to sell power to WAPA.
Hill, the bill's sponsor, said the latest version of the bill makes it easier to sell power back to WAPA if you invest in alternative energy.
"If you live in town, in Christiansted or Frederiksted and perhaps have neighbors and restrictions on what you can do and can't put a windmill up, but you own or lease property up in the hills, you ought to be able to feed that to WAPA and deduct it from your bill in town," Hill said. "This bill has been modified to allow that."
The clerk read a letter from V.I. Energy Office Director Bevan Smith, outlining a philosophic objection to the proposed mandates on new construction and offering several technical suggestions for the bill.
"The major policy question before us continues to be whether we can be comfortable with a law that that takes away a resident's ability to decide for themselves what kind of water heater they want to buy," Smith wrote. "What other policies are we willing to impose on consumers for the sake of their best interest? Do we mandate the use of hybrid gas-electric vehicles … the use of propane stoves … the use of clotheslines to reduce energy consumption by dryers? The administration's approach is not to issue mandates… but rather to promote their effectiveness and ensure their affordability."
Smith also argued the bill conflicts with aspects of the administration's energy plan and doesn’t take best advantage of energy funds in the federal stimulus package. may not take best
Sen. Celestino White said he too opposed making solar water heaters mandatory and could not vote for the bill. Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson said he was cautious about mandates too. "But it's not a hard mandate," he said, pointing to language allowing the commissioner of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources to waive the requirement if it is not cost effective.
Sen. Carlton "Ital" Dowe said the risks of skyrocketing energy costs outweigh the burden of mandates.
"It is only when prices start rising that we begin looking at ways and means," he said.
Dowe offered an amendment on behalf of Hill to reduce an appropriation to WAPA for solar water heaters, "from any available funds" from the stimulus package, cutting it from $20 million down to $10 million. The amendment passed. Voting yea were: Dowe, Richards, Sens. Neville James, Patrick Simeon Sprauve and Michael Thurland. White voted nay and Sen. Sammuel Sanes was absent.
The bill was approved and sent on to the full Senate. Voting yea were: Dowe, James, Sprauve and Thurland. Voting nay were Richards and White. Sanes was absent. Nelson, not a member of the committee, was also present.
The committee unanimously sent on a bill to increase college scholarships for the territory's high school valedictorians and salutatorians from $1,000 and $700, respectively to $25,000 for both.
The scholarships, like the current scholarships, would be managed by the V.I. Board of Education and recipients would have to return and work in the Virgin Islands for a period of time after graduation. The scholarships would be renewable, with a maximum of $100,000 over four years. The eight annual valedictorians and salutatorians from the territory's public high schools would be eligible, and perhaps many of their private and parochial school counterparts as well.
Also approved unanimously was a bill increasing the minimum size of constructions contracts that must go through the formal Property and Procurement request for proposal process from $5,000 to $50,000, so long as three bids are sought, and to let the government essentially act as a bonding agent for local contractors, allowing smaller companies to bid.
"Right now, because of bonding we only allow huge companies from outside the territory, who come in then subcontract the work to the same local contractors who couldn't bid," said Hill, the bill's sponsor. "Why not give them the ability to begin with?"
A bill to limit liability for property owners who allow public use for recreation was held in committee for revisions. Sen. Usie Richards raised a concern over whether the bill would transfer the liability from the property owner to the government, or alternatively, might leave no one liable. The bill was intended in part to make it easier to persuade landowners to allow a proposed bicycle path across their land on St. Croix.
Voting to hold the bill in committee were: Dowe, James, Richards, Sprauve and Thurland. White voted nay and Sanes was absent.

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