Sept. 25, 2003 – With the recent increase in electric rates, Energy Awareness Month — which is October — may be a good time to look at ways to reduce your power usage.
Jamal Nielsen, spokesman at the V.I. Energy Office, said on Thursday that the month-long observance is particularly timely given the United States' dependence on foreign oil. "We need to look into free resources like wind, sun and the ocean," he said.
One incentive for doing so, unfortunately, isn't available at the moment. Virgin Islanders for years enjoyed the benefits of the Energy Office's rebate program to help pay for such energy-efficient items as solar panels and compact fluorescent bulbs, but that program is on hold.
Victor Sommes, Energy Office director, said that in evaluating the program, his staff realized that large checks were being sent off island. "The program was meant for local residents," he said.
It turned out that, particularly on St. John, off-island residents building vacation villas received rebates for installing energy-efficient equipment. Somme said some of the checks were in the $25,000 to $30,000 range.
Additionally, transient boaters bought equipment here, received their rebates, and then sailed away, he said. And some people purchased equipment under the energy rebate program but shipped it off island.
Somme said his staff is in the midst of inspecting installations made in the last several years. As part of the rebate program, the Energy Office keeps track of the savings people realize from using energy-efficient equipment — which, of course, cannot be determined if the equipment isn't in the territory.
Somme said he expects the energy rebate program to resume at the start of Fiscal Year 2005 — just over a year from now.
He noted that the Energy Office's demonstration site across from the Seaborne Airlines base on the St. Thomas waterfront is only open by appointment. That's because it doesn't have a full-time staff, he said. He said to call the St. Croix Energy Office at 773-4430 to make an appointment.
To kick off Energy Awareness Month, Somme said, his office in conjunction with the Housing Finance Authority will break ground on Wednesday for a moderate-income housing project at Estate Solitude on St. Croix. The event is not open to the public, but eventually a model home will be, demonstrating "solar water heating and a photovoltaic back-up system," he said.
Light the Way Award presentations
Also in observance of Energy Awareness Month, the Energy Office will present its 2nd annual Vincent D. George Light the Way Award to organizations, agencies and individuals who set the pace for alternative energy awareness.
Somme said the award is named in honor of a deceased Energy Office employee who "championed alternative energy." It consists of a lantern made of Crucian mahogany with a crystal shade.
Last year's recipients were the University of the Virgin Islands, Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett, the Virginia-based National Energy Education Project, and Bevan R. Smith Jr. of the Energy Office.
At the time of the award presentations, the office also will unveil its newly purchased electric hybrid car, a Honda that cost $25,000. Somme said his staff plans to paint it up brightly so people will notice it and understand its efficiency. The car runs on both gasoline and electric power, with the gas automatically kicking in on hills where the electric power often falls short.
Somme said his office had no problem registering the vehicle — because it looks like a regular car.
Such has not been the case for St. Thomas architect Doug White, who has been trying for three years to register his GEM electric car. White said on Thursday that he has yet to persuade officials at the Police Department's Motor Vehicle Bureau to allow him to register the totally electric car.
White had nothing but accolades for the hybrid vehicle. "It's the perfect car for here," he said.
Workshops, information outreach
As part of Energy Awareness Month, the Energy Office will hold workshops on energy grant programs for building retrofits, energy research and education projects.
They are scheduled for Oct. 2 at the Curriculum Center on St. Croix and for Oct. 3 at the Curriculum Center on St. Thomas. Both begin at 10 a.m.
The Energy Office and the Water and Power Authority will distribute alternative energy information as follows:
– Oct. 4 at the Sunny Isle Shopping Center on St. Croix.
– Oct. 6 at the WAPA business office on St. Croix.
– Oct. 11 at Sunshine Mall on St. Croix.
– Oct. 17 at the WAPA business office on St. Thomas.
– Oct. 18 at Tutu Park Mall.
Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the malls and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the WAPA offices.
Somme said his office is working on implementing a "State Energy Conservation Plan," which includes such things as no-interest energy loan programs, energy codes for new construction, and ways to make government buildings more energy efficient.
"In the men's restrooms, the urinals should be no-flush. If it works at Maho Bay Camps, why not for the government?" Somme said, referring to the ecology-oriented St. John resort that also has received international recognition for its energy-conserving practices.
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