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$62.5 Million Grant Boosts Solar Energy Initiatives in USVI for Low-Income Communities

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Aerial view of many solar power panels in the green field. Farm producing clean electrical energy from renewable resources. High quality photo 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

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made a significant Earth Day announcement, revealing a $62.5 million grant to the Virgin Islands Energy Office (VIEO). This funding comes through the Solar for All initiative under the expansive $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, a component of President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act. The grant aims to propel solar energy projects across low-income and disadvantaged communities within the territory.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan emphasized the commitment to inclusivity in energy reform, stating, “We’re delivering on President Biden’s promise that no community is left behind by investing $7 billion in solar energy projects for over 900,000 households in low-income and disadvantaged communities.” Lisa Garcia, EPA Region 2 Administrator, highlighted the focus on climate justice, which she defined as prioritizing clean energy benefits for communities most affected by climate change. The VIEO will use the grant to enhance solar power accessibility and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Kyle Fleming, Director of VIEO, commented on the unique challenges faced by the US Virgin Islands due to reliance on costly and unreliable fossil fuel-based power systems. “The selection of the VIEO’s Solar for All application marks a historic step toward an equitable energy transition that utilizes our islands’ abundant solar resources,” Fleming noted. The funded initiatives will include developing solar solutions for both single and multi-family residences, and integrating community solar projects served by residential energy storage systems to bolster efficiency and resilience.

Fleming also outlined the broader impact of the funding, explaining that it will continue the expansion of VIEO’s previous financial incentive programs and micro-grid developments, introducing residential community solar projects across the islands. He envisioned a transformative shift in the USVI’s residential energy framework, which will tackle high electricity costs and foster reliable, sustainable power sources for the communities most in need.

In total, the EPA announced $5.5 billion in awards to 49 states, with additional grants of $500 million to Tribal groups and $1 billion to multi-state programs. All awards are expected to be finalized by summer 2024, with funded projects initiating in the latter part of the year following extensive community outreach efforts.

VIEO has been proactive, securing additional funds to ensure robust planning and implementation of these transformative grants. The office received over $540,000 from an Energizing Insular Communities grant by the Department of the Interior to create a dedicated Renewable/Distributed Energy division. Additionally, the Department of Energy Block Grant contributed $260,000 for pre-engineering community solar farms and $180,000 to develop solar financing solutions and policies.

These initiatives are designed not only to address the immediate solar energy needs but also to establish modern energy operations like Virtual Power Plants. These plants will integrate residential and community solar with energy storage, enhancing savings and resilience across the entire grid.

Parallel to these developments, VIEO has launched financial incentive programs such as the Equitable E-Mobility and the upcoming Virgin Islands Battery Energy Storage (VIBES) rebate programs. These initiatives aim to reduce electric vehicle costs and support battery storage installations to minimize power disruptions.

This funding initiative is a cornerstone of the Biden administration’s strategy to foster high-quality jobs and achieve a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035. To enhance transparency and engage public participation, the EPA has scheduled a public webinar on the Solar for All program, with registration available online.

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Development

VIHFA Submits Finalized Amendment to Mitigation Action Plan for HUD Review

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The Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority (VIHFA) has officially submitted its finalized Second Substantial Amendment to the Mitigation Action Plan to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for review. This amendment, shaped by extensive community feedback from recent public meetings and online forums, is expected to receive a response from HUD by July 2024.

“We are deeply grateful to the Virgin Islands community for their active participation in shaping this plan,” said Dayna Clendinen, VIHFA Chief Disaster Recovery Officer. “By prioritizing and investing in critical infrastructure projects, workforce development, small business growth, and economic stabilization initiatives, we can build a more resilient Virgin Islands. This comprehensive approach strengthens our communities, equips them to withstand future storms, reduces environmental impact, and fosters a thriving future for everyone.”

Key Highlights of the Second Substantial Amendment

Increased Funding for Infrastructure: The amendment increases funding for Infrastructure and Public Facilities from $363 million to $423 million. This additional support will finance the second phase of the Veterans Drive Improvement Project, which includes stormwater improvements, minimized erosion and pollution, and enhanced pedestrian mobility and safety.

Enhanced Economic Resilience Programs: Two new programs have been introduced to bolster economic resilience and revitalization:

  • Entrepreneurship Resilience and Innovation Program: Funded at $8 million, this program offers additional support for small businesses.
  • Workforce Development Mitigation Program: Also funded at $8 million, this program focuses on critical local training initiatives.

For more details, the finalized Second Amendment to the Mitigation Action Plan can be viewed on the VIHFA website.

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Lawmakers Approve Leases for Sejah Farm and Rumina Construction, Bolstering Local Economic Growth

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The Senate Committee on Budget, Appropriations, and Finance has approved two lease agreements of government-owned lands to support a local farm and a construction company, fostering economic development in the Virgin Islands. The bills now await approval from the 35th Legislature and Governor Albert Bryan.

Sejah Farm Lease

Bill No. 35-0261 authorizes a lease between the Government of the Virgin Islands and Yvette and Dale Brown, owners of Sejah Farm of the Virgin Islands. The 15-acre property, located at Plot No. 9-P Estate VICORP Lands, Prince Quarter, St. Croix, will be used for farming and related activities.

Senator Marvin Blyden, presenting the bill, emphasized the importance of the twenty-year lease for the farm’s ongoing livestock and crop production. Sejah Farm operates an agricultural learning center, teaching animal husbandry, soil improvement, and value-added production. The annual rent for the property is set at $225.69.

Mrs. Brown outlined the farm’s use of the property, which includes livestock grazing, organic crop production, and poultry, meat, and egg production. The farm supplies fresh meat and vegetables to local and overseas markets, focusing on bolstering the territory’s agricultural sector.

Rumina Construction Lease

Bill No. 35-0255 details a multi-year lease agreement with Rumina Construction, LLC, for land at Submarine Base, No. 6 Southside Quarter, St. Thomas. The lease allows the company to use the land for an equipment and material storage depot yard, construction company office, and related purposes. Senator Blyden noted that the lease supports a local business that provides essential services to the community.

Rumina Construction, involved in several hurricane recovery projects, employs twelve Virgin Islanders. Franklin Victor, the company’s owner, reported significant investments in property improvements, totaling nearly $100,000 since the original lease.

The bills will proceed to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

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Debate on Sidewalk Bar Proposal Ignites at Historical Preservation Meeting

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The St. Thomas-St. John Historical Preservation Society convened on a recent Tuesday to deliberate on several matters, including a contentious proposal for a new sidewalk bar at Meada’s Plaza in Cruz Bay. The plan, which calls for tearing down an existing concrete slab and erecting new structures with subtle lighting and movable seating, sparked a lively debate over aesthetics, public parking, and the complexities of navigating the permitting maze within historic districts.

Sean Krigger, the director of the State Historical Preservation Office, voiced his reservations about the design elements of the proposed bar, particularly the herringbone pattern intended for the perimeter wall. He suggested that the design might clash with the existing architectural style of Cruz Bay, which leans towards a more modern aesthetic. “The flooring might handle the design, but on a wall, it becomes too conspicuous,” Krigger explained. He proposed exploring the use of stone, which is prevalent in the district’s construction.

During the discussions, the perennial issue of parking resurfaced, mirroring concerns raised at a similar meeting of the St. Croix Historic Preservation Committee. Enrique Rodriguez, a committee member, pointed out that the proposed site for the sidewalk bar had been originally designated for parking. The local zoning laws currently do not allow the Historical Preservation Committee (HPC) to waive these parking requirements, a point Krigger emphasized. However, Kurt Marsh, another member, noted that the developers possessed a nearby parking lot that might serve as an alternative parking space, pending approval from planning authorities.

The committee also considered whether to approve the project conditionally, pending the acquisition of all necessary permits. Krigger strongly opposed this, stating, “We should not approve projects that do not fully comply with zoning and building laws.” This sentiment underscored the committee’s commitment to upholding legal standards rigorously, contrasting with the more flexible approaches sometimes observed on other islands.

Architect Clarence Brown expressed frustration with the convoluted permitting process, recounting instances of being shuffled between departments without clear guidance. “It’s baffling that every agency points to another, and yet we’re expected to have all approvals in place before moving forward,” Brown stated.

Ultimately, despite Krigger’s objections, Marsh proposed granting conditional approval, dependent on confirmation of the alternative parking arrangements and necessary adjustments to the design plans. The committee unanimously agreed, marking a significant step forward for the proposed project at 6B Vester Gade in Cruz Bay, St. John, despite the noted challenges and procedural hurdles.

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