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Senate Panel OKs Energy Bill

April 15, 2009 — A comprehensive bill aimed at leading the Virgin Islands to a future of energy independence was approved Wednesday by the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Energy and Technology.
The committee's 5-0 vote came at the end a day of sometimes contentious hearings at the Fritz Lawaetz Conference Room in Frederiksted, along with hearings last week on St. Thomas and earlier on St. John. The committee's vote means the bill moves on to the Rules Committee for final determination of when it will face the entire Senate. Sen. Craig W. Barshinger, chairman of the Energy Committee, estimated it will take about two months before the bill comes up for a final vote.
"This is no pie-in-the-sky government program where 10 years from now we'll say, 'Oh what were we thinking?'" he said. "In 10 years we'll pat ourselves on the back."
Voices were raised during Wednesday's hearing, with arguments over the details of the bill between Sen. Louis Hill, the bill's author, who has spent three years working for its passage, and Bevan Smith, director of the V.I. Energy Office.
Both said they agreed with each other on 99 percent of the bill, but Hill's insistence that the focus of energy projects be in converting the territory to solar water heating and making it mandatory for all new home construction on the islands to have a solar water heater were bones of contention. Smith said he prefers the government to offer incentives to make it an easy choice, a carrot instead of a stick.
Additional funding, not anticipated when the bill was first considered, has opened the possibilities further. The stimulus package approved by Congress, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, has made approximately $30 million available for energy projects in the territory. Hill said he wanted as much of that as possible to go to solar water heating, saying $20 million would be an acceptable target.
"This is an opportunity to use the stimulus money in a very focused manner to give us the best bang for our dollar," he said. "We have to decide what is the best way, and how do we get the biggest effect. I propose we focus on solar water heating; it's an area where we can make a serious and significant impact in a short period of time."
Smith repeatedly told him that wasn't possible — that the rules of how the money must be sent precluded the possibility, even if it was a good idea. But Smith said there are many avenues for changing the Virgin Islands' energy uses. Rebates on energy-efficient appliances, solar street lighting and other such small steps can make for huge savings, he said.
Smith also opposed Hill's suggestion that $20 million for solar water heating be given to the Water and Power Administration to run the program.
Details of the program are yet to be worked out, but in essence it would allow homeowners who decide to convert their water heating to solar can get the system installed with no cash up front. The system should cause an immediate drop in the home's energy bill, and the bulk of that savings will go to defray the cost of the installation. When the system has been paid for — estimates ranged from three to five years — the full savings will be reflected in the power bill, and the system will belong to the homeowner.
Among the factors necessary for such a program to succeed is having enough people trained in installing systems. Labor Commissioner Albert Bryan told the committee a training program is being set up to train from 30 to 60 installers in the first year. The 20-week program would include four weeks of on-the-job training. Installation of these systems will require plumbing, carpentry and electrical skills.
The number of people trained as installers is a factor of how many installations are likely to be needed in the first years of the program. With an estimated 1,000 installations required in the first year, and approximately two to three days required for each job, training 500 installers wouldn't create any real jobs, Bryan said.
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April 15, 2009 -- A comprehensive bill aimed at leading the Virgin Islands to a future of energy independence was approved Wednesday by the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Energy and Technology.
The committee's 5-0 vote came at the end a day of sometimes contentious hearings at the Fritz Lawaetz Conference Room in Frederiksted, along with hearings last week on St. Thomas and earlier on St. John. The committee's vote means the bill moves on to the Rules Committee for final determination of when it will face the entire Senate. Sen. Craig W. Barshinger, chairman of the Energy Committee, estimated it will take about two months before the bill comes up for a final vote.
"This is no pie-in-the-sky government program where 10 years from now we'll say, 'Oh what were we thinking?'" he said. "In 10 years we'll pat ourselves on the back."
Voices were raised during Wednesday's hearing, with arguments over the details of the bill between Sen. Louis Hill, the bill's author, who has spent three years working for its passage, and Bevan Smith, director of the V.I. Energy Office.
Both said they agreed with each other on 99 percent of the bill, but Hill's insistence that the focus of energy projects be in converting the territory to solar water heating and making it mandatory for all new home construction on the islands to have a solar water heater were bones of contention. Smith said he prefers the government to offer incentives to make it an easy choice, a carrot instead of a stick.
Additional funding, not anticipated when the bill was first considered, has opened the possibilities further. The stimulus package approved by Congress, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, has made approximately $30 million available for energy projects in the territory. Hill said he wanted as much of that as possible to go to solar water heating, saying $20 million would be an acceptable target.
"This is an opportunity to use the stimulus money in a very focused manner to give us the best bang for our dollar," he said. "We have to decide what is the best way, and how do we get the biggest effect. I propose we focus on solar water heating; it's an area where we can make a serious and significant impact in a short period of time."
Smith repeatedly told him that wasn't possible -- that the rules of how the money must be sent precluded the possibility, even if it was a good idea. But Smith said there are many avenues for changing the Virgin Islands' energy uses. Rebates on energy-efficient appliances, solar street lighting and other such small steps can make for huge savings, he said.
Smith also opposed Hill's suggestion that $20 million for solar water heating be given to the Water and Power Administration to run the program.
Details of the program are yet to be worked out, but in essence it would allow homeowners who decide to convert their water heating to solar can get the system installed with no cash up front. The system should cause an immediate drop in the home's energy bill, and the bulk of that savings will go to defray the cost of the installation. When the system has been paid for -- estimates ranged from three to five years -- the full savings will be reflected in the power bill, and the system will belong to the homeowner.
Among the factors necessary for such a program to succeed is having enough people trained in installing systems. Labor Commissioner Albert Bryan told the committee a training program is being set up to train from 30 to 60 installers in the first year. The 20-week program would include four weeks of on-the-job training. Installation of these systems will require plumbing, carpentry and electrical skills.
The number of people trained as installers is a factor of how many installations are likely to be needed in the first years of the program. With an estimated 1,000 installations required in the first year, and approximately two to three days required for each job, training 500 installers wouldn't create any real jobs, Bryan said.
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.