I was recently reminded of the urgent need to set development goals for the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) when I read a media report that two companies seeking to produce energy in the USVI received positive responses from the V.I. Public Services Commission. Development of the energy sector in the USVI has been problematic, with the main challenge being the absence of comprehensive public policy and a sector development strategy.
The energy sector analysis being commissioned by the Virgin Islands Economic Development Authority could go a long way towards addressing the afore-mentioned challenge. The objective of the analysis is to identify investment opportunities rather than prepare a sector development strategy, but a rigorous analysis could provide the background for both efforts.
That said, the proposed waste to energy proposal by one of the companies brought to mind the lack of public policy for waste management. A waste to energy strategy using solid waste necessitates making tradeoffs. Will a waste to energy business be financially viable if components of the waste stream are diverted for use in soil enhancement (for agriculture, horticulture, or landscaping), for production of paper products, or for other uses? Was the proposal by the V.I. Waste Management Authority to make building blocks from solid waste scrapped? Has the USVI decided that it is unable to effect waste minimization at source through agreements with suppliers? A comprehensive waste management strategy would guide future investments, ensuring that initiatives support USVI development goals.
Another aspect of any waste to energy proposal in the USVI that should be considered is the issue of ownership. It is here assumed that such a facility would be largely dependent on the local waste streams. In that case, considering that the V.I. Waste Management Authority and the V.I. government are in dire financial straits, any waste to energy facility should be partially owned by the V.I. Waste Management Authority.
No private company would be expected to give raw materials to another private company for free, especially when producing the raw materials is costly. If the raw material for the waste to energy business is not purchased from the V.I. Waste Management Authority, the government would be providing a substantial subsidy to the firm. It should also be as expected that the firm will apply for benefits under the government’s economic development incentive program. An alternative approach is a public private partnership.
The Government of the United States Virgin Islands has stated its receptivity to public private partnerships, and a waste to energy business offers an opportunity to pursue such a strategy.
In fact, if the government wants to diversify and grow the USVI economy, it should consider establishing a waste to resource development firm through a public-private-civil society partnership as one mechanism for implementing Vision 2040.
With all the interest in blue economy, green economy, re-use economy, circular economy, and the various iterations thereof, waste management offers a window to a strategy for creating enterprises that can grow the USVI economy.
Making good choices starts with sound public policy.
Editor’s note: Lloyd Gardner is an environmental planning consultant, the principal of Environmental Support Services LLC and president of the non-profit, Foundation for Development Planning Inc. He has been involved in environmental management in the Caribbean since 1982 and has functioned as a consultant in several projects and public policy initiatives in the U.S. Virgin Islands since relocating to the territory more than two decades ago.