After a year of planning and months of labor, the Cyril E. King Airport solar panel system was energized for the first time Wednesday, with the flick of a switch from Gov. John deJongh Jr.
A joint project between the V.I. Port Authority and V.I. Energy Office, construction of the 450-kilowatt system began in February, following approval by VIPA’s governing board in September 2010.
The new system is 1,600 feet long and 21 feet wide, and was paid for by $2.9 million in funding received through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
At a press conference Wednesday, VIPA’s Executive Director Kenn Hobson said the system will shave at least 15 percent off the authority’s power bills, which have been as high as $400,000 a month. The authority has been looking at other ways to cut costs on water and electricity, and has also used solar lights to illuminate the parking lot and access roads at the airport.
Solar panels have just been put in the Enighed Pond parking lot, and VIPA will be soon conducting a study on St. Croix to see where it can implement additional systems to help with the bills, Hobson said.
"We hope to be able to pass this savings on to the public by making additional improvements to our facilities," Hobson said.
V.I. Energy Office Director Karl Knight said officials had talked about the system being the "flagship project" in the larger effort to reduce the government’s energy consumption by 60 percent by 2025.
"We wanted something very visible, very tangible, so it’s no coincidence that this system is at the airport," Knight said.
How the territory hits that 60-percent marker is all part of the ongoing Energy Development in Island Nations (EDIN) program, an international partnership focused on the unique power-generation problems and opportunities of island nations, which traditionally rely heavily on petroleum.
In late 2009, the United States decided to make the U.S. Virgin Islands its EDIN pilot project, giving technical and some financial assistance to help meet the governor’s 2025 goal and to create a comprehensive energy standard that other island nations can follow.
Speaking at Wednesday’s press conference, deJongh said that while talking to EDIN officials about the program two years ago, he realized that the territory had to be "willing to be committed to energy conservation" and "aggressive" about making it happen.
He said the approximately $33,000 the Port Authority will be saving each month can be reinvested into the economy.
DeJongh said that the project was also an opportunity to get local youth interested in the concept of green technology. Throughout the construction project, subcontractor OneWorld Sustainable out of Georgia implemented an educational outreach program that brought in interns from UVI to work on the system, and will soon be donating 1 kilowatt of a solar system to the St. Croix Educational Complex, deJongh announced.
The contractor on the project was All Rounder System out of St. Croix, in conjunction with Veteran’s General Contracting, Inc.
Speaking during the program Wednesday, All Rounder’s co-principal Peter Sites called the system and the governor’s call for a 60-percent reduction the "wave of the future."
"Let’s hope this will be the first in a long string of large renewable clean energy projects that will radically alter the way we generate the preponderance of the electricity we use," Sites said.