US Virgin Islands Aims to Become Renewable Energy Showcase

The governor of the US Virgin Islands has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with federal agencies to develop a clean energy development strategy for the territory. The US Virgin Islands can reduce its reliance on fossil fuels by 60% within the next 15 years by developing its renewable energy resources, Governor John P. de Jongh, Jr. announced during a workshop at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The MOU calls for NREL and federal agencies to work with the U.S. Virgin Islands to establish an aggressive renewable energy deployment strategy for the islands that includes transportation, electricity generation and transmission, energy efficiency, and tourism and industry. The agreement also calls for a communications and public education campaign.

In April 2009, the International Partnership for Energy Development in Island Nations (EDIN) selected the U.S. Virgin Islands as one of its three pilot projects. “We want to be able to showcase places like the U.S. Virgin Islands, where energy costs are so high, as leaders in implementing energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions” said NREL senior vice president of commercialization and deployment Casey Porto, who opened the NREL workshop. “The EDIN project will create models that can be replicated elsewhere, putting into play the right mix of renewable energy resources and energy efficiency practices in order to leverage the greatest reduction on fossil fuel dependence” Porto said.

Currently, the U.S. Virgin Islands rely entirely on fossil fuels to meet their energy demands. Not only do the islands have among the highest energy prices in the U.S., their economy is especially vulnerable to supply disruptions and price fluctuations. At the same time, the islands have abundant natural resources, including solar and wind. With the right financial and regulatory systems, the U.S. Virgin Islands could be a model for renewable energy development–especially for other island nations and territories.

“A green, energy efficient Caribbean is the first step in the fight against global warming. Nowhere is the stark reality of rising sea levels more palpable than on islands,” said Joe Garcia, Director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Economic Impact. “The EDIN project will ebb the tide of rising sea levels and lower the cost of energy in island nations. It will also usher in an era of greater collaboration and energy security in the Americas.”

In 2009, the U.S. Virgin Islands Energy Office received $17.8 million in funding from the Department of Energy under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The funding supports a variety of energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, including improvements to the islands’ power transmission and distribution system, a renewable landfill-gas-to-energy treatment system, and a 350 kilowatt solar photovoltaic panel system to supplement power for the government-operated airport on the island of St. Thomas.

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