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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, January 26, 2023
HomeNewsArchivesGovernor, Delegate, Legislature Push for Federal Energy Assistance

Governor, Delegate, Legislature Push for Federal Energy Assistance

Gov. John deJongh Jr. has written U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, asking for an additional $1 million in federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program funding for fiscal years 2013 to 2015 to help mitigate the impact of exploding energy costs in the territory.

The territory’s government is trying to help low-income senior citizens and people with disabilities afford their power bills by greatly supplementing LIHEAP funding, having spent $1.5 million per year over the last few years on its own Energy Crisis Assistance Program. But with the highest electricity rates in the country, the local government is forced to cap the assistance it offers those in need, deJongh said in a statement.

"The geographic isolation of the U.S. Virgin Islands, compounded by the inability to achieve an interconnected grid within the territory, and therefore necessitating the operation of two isolated electric systems, has resulted in power generating costs from fuel oil combustion that currently exceeds 51 cents per kilowatt-hour, and based on current market factors are threatening to go even higher," deJongh wrote in his letter to Sebelius.

"That is five times the stateside average for an economy with a per capita income well below that of the poorest state, even before the closing last year of our largest employer and taxpayer, the Hovensa refinery on St. Croix,” deJongh wrote.

DeJongh said Health and Human Services is currently helping through financial relief and strategic guidance but more help is needed.

“There is no doubt that the compounding effects of high unemployment and high utility costs have put a tremendous squeeze on our families,” deJongh said in the letter.

DeJongh said the territory is requesting special consideration for LIHEAP funds for the next two years, after which time the territory’s power plants should be modified to burn cheaper propane and natural gas, adding that some solar and wind power should be online by then, lowering energy costs.

In a statement Tuesday, Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen praised deJongh’s effort on LIHEAP and thanked the V.I. Legislature for recently passing a resolution (see related links below) in support of her own legislation before Congress to subsidize the territory’s energy costs and help pay to convert to lower-cost fuels.

“I welcome both the unanimous support of the 30th Legislature with their resolution that calls for addressing our energy crisis and the governor’s letter to (Sebelius) as they underscore efforts already under way,” Christensen said Tuesday.

Christensen and colleagues from other territories have been talking with the Senate and White House about increasing overall funding, she said.

“As a matter of fact, we are sure that the Omnibus Territories legislation currently being formulated in the Senate will include increased LIHEAP funding for the Virgin Islands,” Christensen said. “We are sure that, on all fronts, our need for increased funding and expanded eligibility so that more people can be helped has been heard.” She said the governor’s letter will “reiterate that the needs of our people at this time are real and urgent."

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