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Solar Power, Net Metering Taking Off in Territory

Sidney Silverman in front of his solar power system Wednesday.Households using solar energy and selling their surplus power back to the V.I. Water and Power Authority through net metering have increased almost tenfold over the past two years. Now proven successful, the technology is poised to take off, WAPA Executive Director Hugo Hodge Jr. said Wednesday.
Enthusiastic, net-metering clients Sidney and Irene Silverman of Betsy’s Jewel on St. Croix’s North Shore hosted WAPA officials, solar contractors and media Wednesday, to celebrate the success of their solar power system and net metering.
Their home-based solar system powers two households—one full-time and the other for part-time residents—and offers a glimpse of the territory’s clean energy future.
Onaje Jackson of Sustainable Systems and Design International designed, managed and oversaw the project. He coordinated the Silvermans’ objectives with WAPA. The result: WAPA installed a meter crediting the Silvermans with every kilowatt produced and charging them only for electricity used in excess of what their panels produce.
Since entering the net-metering program two and a half years ago, the Silvermans’ system has produced over 24 megawatt-hours of total solar power production, according to the digital meter attached to the system.
That amounts to a savings of roughly $7,500 in WAPA bills over that same time. But the Silvermans are less interested in the money than they are in setting an example and starting the process rolling.
Born in the 1930s, Sidney Silverman said that President Franklin Roosevelt worked to get the country out of an economic malaise partly by building power generating dams with public money, citing a long list of major hydroelectric projects begun then.
"Today, President Barack Obama is a man like Roosevelt," he said. "He is in favor of projects that create jobs and that are environmentally sound .… I am not going to live to see the day when all of our electricity is generated by sun and wind, but I hope to see the start."
Silverman said the system cost nearly $65,000. But with federal and local rebates and tax credits, you can cut the cost by at least a third to one half, Hodge said.
Jackson hailed net metering as the leading edge of the first categorical change in power generation in a century. In the early 20th century, he said, governments made a conscious choice to generate power with fossil fuels and distribute the power over long distances to end consumers.
Now with solar and wind net metering, power is not only cleaner but is more broadly distributed, travelling shorter distances. And it changes the dynamic from one where the end user is simply a paying consumer to one where he or she is a partner with their utility, producing as well as using, he said. The territory’s program was the first of its kind in the Caribbean, he said. "It is also the most successful one regionally and maybe nationally," he said.
Net metering is only part of the solution but a critical part, Hodge said. While neither net metering nor power-plant-based wind and solar energy can meet base load, it can put a large dent in usage, especially during peak use times, he said.
"I have a bias toward solar power," Hodge said. "Solar works better than wind for us because it coincides with our peak loads." The territory’s power use has two peaks: around noon and again around six p.m., he said. Solar could meet the entire first peak and help with the second peak, he said.
Two years ago, there were three net-metering clients, while today St. Croix boasts about 22 and St. Thomas around a dozen. "I know how you like statistics, so that’s what, way over 800 percent in two years," he said, roughly estimating. The total is still a tiny fraction of all energy consumption but shows movement in the right direction, he said. Meanwhile, a WAPA-based 20 megawatt system should be heading out for bids around the end of April, he said.

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