State Energy Program Rebates Exclude Major Power Users

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New federal stimulus funds for alternative energy can be coupled with the State Energy Program to reimburse homeowners in the U.S. Virgin Islands for half the cost of adding solar energy production systems which could meet the needs of an average home, according to the V.I. Energy Office.

But the territory-wide program won’t be available to most of the largest residential energy users on St. John — vacation rental home owners — because the rebates are only available to V.I. residents, according to Don Buchanan, a V.I. Energy Office Media Information Specialist who answered questions from a group of 13 island residents at a September 29 meeting sponsored by the  St. John Chapter of the St. Thomas/St. John Chamber of Commerce. “You’ve got to pay your taxes in the V.I.,” said Buchanan.

“That knocked out a huge market,” said an alternative energy company owner in the audience.

“Is this about saving energy or who deserves it,” asked Andy Rutnik, former Commissioner of the V.I. Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs.

“What do I tell my owners,” asked one property manager at the energy office presentation who said vacation rental home owners face $3,000 a month power bills during high season from guests who leave doors and windows open with the air conditioning on.

“It has to be a resident,” Buchanan reiterated. “There are some people who are adamant that it should just be for residents.”
“There’s enough money we can go with anyone,” said Rutnik, who is now a real estate agent, arguing against the restriction. “It’s wrong — it’s about energy conservation, not how you are on the social ladder.”

The American Recovery Act energy funds, which became available October 1, will rebate homeowners for 50 percent of the costs of a solar power system that produces two kilowatts of energy per hour — almost twice the former 30 percent limit, according to Buchanan.

Also, although energy officials expect Virgin Islands dealers to be able to meet any increased demand for solar energy equipment, the new federal program also allows the stateside purchase of an entire system, the energy office official added.

“You don’t have to do it from the V.I. dealers, but we encourage you to deal locally,” said Buchanan, adding residents have complained about territory prices and availability of equipment. “We said ‘go ahead — but only if you go for a full system’.”

Requiring residents buying their solar equipment outside the territory to purchase complete systems is intended to help guarantee that it will be installed, but the territory’s alternative energy equipment dealers are expected to be able to handle any increased demand, according to Buchanan.

“We think it’s good enough,” added Buchanan, who acknowledged concerns about the ability of local distributors to meet any increased demand. “We think it’s going to work.”

A two-kilowatt solar power system would produce two kilowatts of power per hour of sunlight and the Virgin Islands has an average of five hours of sunshine per day, for a total of 10 kilowatts per day. The average home uses 15 kilowatts per day, according to the energy office media information specialist.

But, forthcoming State Energy Program funds could also provide 50 percent rebates to a homeowner for the necessary equipment to produce three kilowatts per hour, according to the V.I. Energy Office official, who said the state program is expected to become effective “within a month.”

The energy programs also provide 30 percent rebates for the purchase of “one of each” Energy Star appliances, according to Buchanan. That program will begin in October and run “until the money runs out,” he added.

The American Recovery Act also has $1 million in funding on a “first come first served basis” for non-profit organizations to install solar and wind power production capacity, including wind turbines, according to Buchanan.

The size of individual grants has been increased from $20,000 to $50,000, according the energy official, who said there have been “a lot of churches on St. Croix” who have expressed interests in the program.

There are currently two St. John wind turbine proposals in the approval process — one of which will be 30-feet tall and located in Estate Concordia, according to one of the meeting attendees.