Solarize St. John aims to lower the cost of solar on the US Virgin Islands

A new public-private initiative seeks to match home and business owners with local solar installation companies, giving St. John residents a chance to purchase solar energy systems for their homes and businesses.

Under Solarize St. John, which was announced last week at a pair of public meetings, the providers will combine their orders to buy equipment in bulk, bringing down the costs of purchasing and shipping by crowdsourcing.

Solarize St. John is new to the territory, but it’s the 10th initiative under the Solarize banner. The project is the brainchild of Don Moreland, who describes himself as a “recovering attorney” specializing in real estate. When the housing market crashed following the 2008 recession, Moreland got the idea to use crowdsourcing and bulk purchasing to make solar technology more affordable for low and moderate income residents.

Moreland’s first project was in Portland, Oregon. Now based in Atlanta, Solarize helps communities by providing website, communication, and crowdsourcing expertise. However, all the actual work of ordering and installing the systems is done by local businesses.

The program also seeks to take advantage of tax credits for solar installations. For 2019 only, residents and business owners who purchase solar equipment can apply for a 30 percent tax credit. After 2019, the amount of tax credit decreases annually until it is entirely eliminated for residential customers in 2023. Commercial developments will still be able to apply for some tax credits. Because the tax credits are being phased out, Solarize St. John is designed to be a short-term project.

Homeowners and businesses must enroll in the program by June 30, 2019. By the end of September, they must have signed a contract with one of the four solar providers who have agreed to work as part of this initiative; finally, to qualify for the full 30 percent tax credit, the work must be essentially completed by the end of December.

There is no obligation to purchase equipment upon enrolling. By signing up, applicants will qualify for a free consultation and evaluation of their site, including preliminary site design, energy usage profile, and financial analysis. Property owners can also get a 25-year outlook of the benefits of solar energy for their homes or businesses.

During the evaluation, enrollees will discuss their goals with a provider. Together they can decide, for example, whether owners want solar panels alone to offset their electricity costs, or whether they also want to install batteries to supply power when the Water and Power Authority’s electrical grid goes down.

On St. John, the four solar businesses that have signed on to work with Solarize St. John are Caribbean Solar Company, owned by Kevin Schnell and Maya Matthews-Sterling; Island Solar, owned by Dan Boyd; Pro Forma Solar, owned by Bill Osborn; and Visolar, owned by Buca Forrester.

Community partners of Solarize St. John include the St. John Community Foundation, the St. John Angels Network, and Island Green Living Association.

As part of the St. John Community Foundation’s Resilient Housing Initiative, grants will be made to bring down the cost of installing solar panels and batteries for low-income families. One qualifying household will receive as much as 40 percent off the cost of installation, up to $20,000.

Island Green Living Association will assist middle-income homeowners and businesses with grants. One qualifying business will receive as much as 40 percent off an entire system up to $30,000.

Dan Boyd, who has been installing solar systems since 2004, said the cost of installing solar panels to produce energy has come down greatly.

“When I started, it cost $8 a watt. By 2008 it was $4 a watt. Now you’re looking at good panels that can produce energy for $1.50 a watt.” Modern inverters are also much more energy efficient, he added. “The energy efficiency transfer loss has been reduced from around 20 percent to less than three percent,” Boyd said.

Solar systems also increase the value of a property, according to Moreland.

“We want to establish St. John as a global model for sustainability and crowdsourcing,” he said. “Solar panels and batteries make the power grid more stable for everyone and provide resiliency for the entire community.”

Moreland said Solarize St. John is working with WAPA to help achieve their mutual energy goals.

In 2009, legislation was passed to require WAPA include renewable energy sources in addition to relying on oil to produce electricity. The law, which was updated in 2014, now states that by 2020, 25 percent of WAPA’s peak generating capacity must be supplied by renewable energy. The law further states that each year, the percentage must increase until the majority of the generating capacity is derived from renewable or alternative energy technologies.

As part of that effort, WAPA is considering a program that would allow home and business owners to lease their roofs to generate solar power. When they enroll in Solarize St. John, applicants will also be asked to indicate if they would consider allowing WAPA to install solar panels and batteries and maintain them at no cost to the homeowner. WAPA would own the power generated, and the home or business owner would continue to pay their monthly bill.


Source: Amy Roberts, St Thomas Source

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