Solar Jeff, whose real name is Jeff Smith, cut his solar-hot-water-installation teeth way back in the 1980s on St. John when he worked for long-gone resident Bill Spalding at his company called Solergy.
"There are systems I installed then that are still there and working," he says, noting that those systems survived both 1989’s Hurricane Marilyn and 1995’s Hurricane Marilyn.
That was donkey years ago, as they say in the Virgin Islands, and Smith, 56, honed his solar-installation skills in such diverse places as California, Guam, the Northern Marianas, Florida and Kauai, Hawaii, following 1992’s disastrous Hurricane Iniki.
He first arrived on St. Croix in 1972 to escape the cold weather from his home in Glastonbury, Conn. He filled the years sailing, working as a construction contractor and doing a stint at what was then Hess Oil Co., now Hovensa, on St. Croix. Smith also worked jobs on the mainland until he moved to St. John in 1978.
Smith returned to St. John five years ago with his wife, Candice, and now owns Solar Jeff, a company that installs solar water heaters, consults to prevent hurricane damage to solar projects, serves as the St. John representative for the St. Croix-based West Indies Solair, and provides skills training to people learning the solar ropes.
While Smith hopes to get involved in a proposed government-sponsored training program that will help residents develop solar-installation skills, he has one person in a training program that he sponsors.
Kenson Jolly, 19, has worked with Smith for about three months.
"It’s a great opportunity for me," Jolly says. “Every day is fun.”
Born in Dominica but a St. John resident since he was 10, Jolly is a Job Corps graduate. He says hooked on solar since the territory has every-day sunshine.
It’s important to train people to install solar systems, because currently there isn’t a big group of people with those skills. Smith says he advertised on Craigslist, but while 50 people responded from the mainland, they didn’t have the specific skills the job needs.
Smith can’t understand why people are dragging their feet on installing solar hot water.
"Solar hot water provides the best return on investment of any technology," he says.
The purchase is sweetened even further with numerous financial incentives available to help defray the purchase price, Smith says.
According to Smith, not to have solar hot water is "unconscionable" in the territory because of the high cost of electricity.
Smith says the solar technology now in use isn’t what it will take to address the global energy problem.
"The solution to global energy woes are not even thought of," he says.
Call Solar Jeff at 776-9048 or 941-321-3177. Visit the website at www.solarstjohn.com.