A plan to grow 1,500 acres of hybrid Giant King Grass on St. Croix and convert it to bio-fuel for generating electricity took a step forward Tuesday night when the Public Services Commission approved Tibar Energy USVI’s application for facility design.
By a vote of 4-0 with two absent, the PSC approved the application at its monthly meeting on St. Thomas with St. Croix commissioners Sirri Hamad and Joseph San Martin joining newly elected Commission Chairman M. Thomas Jackson and Vice-Chairwoman Elsie V. Thomas-Turton via teleconference to form a quorum.
Tibar Energy owner Tanya Coleman and legal counsel Kevin A. Rames presented an overview of the company and adding that Giant King Grass is a fast growing, high yield grass that is neither genetically modified nor invasive.
The Tibar representatives told the commission the grass does not compete with other crops, is similar to sugar cane and uses a high-nutrient fertilizer water which will not deplete the soil. Farmers will be provided with free fertilizer.
Tibar plans to create 40 new jobs in the project, they said, and hopes to harvest 500 to 600 ton a day, running the grass through an anaerobic generator which can produce up to seven kilowatts per hour. Tibar is pursuing a contractual rate with the Water and Power Authority, Coleman said, adding that Tibar “can begin to provide power by Jan. 1, 2014.”
Also discussed at Tuesday’s meeting was a report presented by the Georgetown Consulting Group Inc. concerning the quality service standards of Vitelco regarding implementation of its Lifeline program designed to offset the expense of basic telephone service for low-income families.
Vitelco Chief Executive Officer Seth Davis defended the customer service standards that have been implemented under his watch since 2009.
“We are 40 percent completed on our new cable installation and have just brought our new billing format on-line.” Davis said. ”There is a learning curve associated with any new program both on the part of the employees as well as our customers.”
Instances cited by Madonna Abrahams, PSC complaint officer, included two-week repair dates, no-shows and no-calls, and an extra long waiting period to report outages by phone.
The discussion included the current enrollment of 760 customers in the Lifeline program out of an eligibility pool of 15,000 residents. Lifeline discounts in the territory are provided to low-income consumers under both federal and local programs.
All eligible telecommunications carriers are required to offer the federal Lifeline discount to eligible consumers. However, the current local Lifeline program ($3.50 basic match plus additional discount) applies only to Vitelco.
At question was the future need to include Internet service as part of a bundling feature offered through the program. Enrollees in the government subsidized program currently are discounted up to $10 per month for basic telephone service.
“Every school child needs access to the Internet just to complete daily homework assignments,” Jackson said. “Somebody has to do something and I will not wait for the government to do it.”
Vitelco said it would be willing to consider a bundled discount in the future once the program changes over from Universal Service to the new Connect America program.