Last June, a firm led by Maryland solar developer Rob Wallace Jr. won a nearly $5 million contract to build a solar grid on land adjacent to the Anegada power station (above). Government officials said Power52 Clean Energy Access will complete the project by October 2021, but ground has not been broken, and Mr. Wallace is facing lawsuits back home. (Photo: FREEMAN ROGERS)

After a United States company won a contract last June to build a major solar grid on Anegada, Virgin Islands leaders defended the choice even though it sidelined two local firms that also bid on the nearly $5 million project.

Premier Andrew Fahie said the BVI Electricity Corporation used a “rigorous, transparent” process to evaluate the five bids received, and BVIEC Chairwoman Rosemarie Flax said the results overwhelmingly favoured the Maryland-based company Power52 Clean Energy Access.

But three of the four losing bidders told the Beacon a very different story, painting a picture of a bidding process that lacked transparency and bypassed standard tender procedures outlined in the 2005 Public Finance Management Regulations.

The process also departed from the BVIEC’s usual practice for awarding major contracts: Instead of requiring offers to be submitted in sealed envelopes and opened in public, the utility asked bidders to email them to an unnamed consultant based abroad.

And the founder and CEO of the chosen firm — an American solar developer named Rob Wallace Jr. — has been sued repeatedly in Maryland, where courts recently have ordered him to pay more than $1.2 million to people who allege that he defrauded them, broke his contracts, and refused to pay his bills, among other alleged misconduct sometimes associated with work similar to the project he was contracted to carry out on Anegada.

In interviews with the Beacon, Mr. Wallace roundly denied most of the allegations against him in seven lawsuits over the past 11 years, saying they stem from a small fraction of his projects, the vast majority of which he claimed were successful.

He also maintained that these troubles will soon be behind him, after instilling in him a resolve and vision crucial to his VI endeavours.

“Everything that I went through … has built me and prepared me for what I’m doing now, which is investing in people; which is empowering nations by empowering people,” he said.

The premier has promised to deliver the Anegada grid by the end of September, but Mr. Wallace said this month that he and the BVIEC are still hammering out the details of his contract, and the Beacon’s efforts to obtain a draft copy were unsuccessful.

If the project proceeds, Mr. Wallace’s firm could soon receive nearly $5 million in taxpayer money to lead it to completion.

Who is Rob Wallace?

By the time Mr. Wallace won the Anegada contract last June, he and the Power52 brand were already familiar to VI residents.

Six months earlier, in the midst of the bidding process, he unveiled a separate initiative during a January 2020 press conference at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College alongside former National Football League star Ray Lewis, the premier, and HLSCC officials.

Rob Wallace Jr., left, embraces National Football League Hall of Famer Ray Lewis in January 2020 after they announced a partnership with H. Lavity Stoutt Community College to certify Virgin Islanders as solar technicians. (File photo: JOEY WALDINGER)

Wearing matching caps and shirts, Messrs. Wallace and Lewis recounted the history of the Power52 Foundation, a Maryland non-profit organisation they founded in 2015 with Mr. Wallace’s then-wife Cherie Brooks.

The foundation — named for Mr. Lewis’s jersey number during his 17-year career with the Baltimore Ravens — was conceived after the 2015 protests in Baltimore as a way to help lift the city’s residents out of poverty and crime by training them in the solar profession, Mr. Wallace explained.

Now, he said, he and Mr. Lewis were planning to work with HLSCC to bring the same concept to the VI through a new organisation called the Power52 Caribbean Energy Institute.

“The  solar is just a tool,” Mr. Wallace said, adding, “When we start talking about respecting your elders, loving yourself, having faith and believing in yourself, then their thought process changes, and now you can retool them.”

Classes, however, did not start at the time, and VI officials said little about the training programme until Mr. Wallace won the Anegada contract last June.

The next month, officials announced that HLSCC classes would start in January of this year with scholarship support from a $362,000 Unite BVI grant.

Maryland solar contractor brings with him ten years of legal troubles

Students, they added, would get practical experience and employment opportunities at Mr. Wallace’s solar project on Anegada.

This arrangement mirrors a model Power52 has used in Maryland: There, the non-profit Power52 Foundation — led by Ms. Brooks and funded largely by donations and grants — has offered solar training to at-risk residents; the for-profit company Power52 Energy Solutions —led by Mr. Wallace and funded at times by the foundation — has helped put those trainees to work on solar projects.

But back in Maryland, Mr. Wallace and both of these entities have been mired in lawsuits, debt and other issues in recent years.

Previous bankruptcy

By the time the Power52 brand launched in 2015, Mr. Wallace and his wife already had a history of financial troubles and fraud allegations.

At the height of the global economic downturn in November 2009, the couple declared bankruptcy as their used-car business battled a lawsuit from an auto auctioneer initially seeking nearly $182,300 in damages.

When their bankruptcy proceeding got under way, the auctioneer and a credit union both filed claims accusing them of fraud and other misconduct in connection with unpaid car loans.

The couple denied the allegations, but the court ruled against them in 2014, ordering them to shell out more than $297,000 to the plaintiffs. The judge also sharply castigated the couple for ignoring discovery requests, skipping hearings, and otherwise “acting in bad faith” to delay the court proceedings.

While speaking to the Beacon this month, Mr. Wallace denied the two lenders’ allegations, and said any failure to respond to court requests was a result of the pressures weighing on him at the time.

The litigation, he explained, played out against the crumbling of his business, and he had to represent himself while caring for his children, leaving him little time to respond to court filings.

Fresh start?

The Power52 endeavour, which launched the year after the two auto-loan judgments, appeared to represent a fresh start for the couple in 2015.

In promotional materials, they and Mr. Lewis painted themselves as a team with professional experience well suited to an effort that would bring jobs and renewable energy to low-income residents.

Mr. Wallace — whose father Bob Wallace is a Maryland businessman and clean-energy developer who ran unsuccessfully for Baltimore mayor last November — was described as an engineer with extensive experience in solar installations.

Ms. Brooks was portrayed as a real estate executive who had held leadership roles in various non-profit organisations.

But it was Mr. Lewis — called a retired athlete assigned to secure “business and finance opportunities” — who topped local headlines in Maryland when the foundation publicly launched in November 2015.

“Power52 will not only give people opportunities, but it will also educate people so that they can understand the importance of energy independence while cutting their utility bill,” Mr. Lewis said in a press release that was widely reported in the Baltimore area.

After Power52 was launched in Maryland in 2015, Ray Lewis, Cherie Brooks and Rob Wallace painted themselves as a team working to help bring jobs and renewable energy to low-income residents. (Photo: POWER52.ORG)

After that, the founders reported success after success, telling reporters and donors that the non-profit foundation had helped dozens of people find well-paying work, often with the help of Mr. Wallace’s for-profit company Power52 Energy Solutions, which was incorporated in January 2017.

The foundation also attracted funding: In 2018, its revenue peaked at $907,447, the majority of which came from almost $675,000 in government grants from programmes including Earn Maryland, a workforce initiative from the state’s Department of Labour, according to its tax filings.

The same year, tax filings show that the foundation spread the wealth to Mr. Wallace’s for-profit company, paying Power52 Energy Solutions nearly $370,000 for “consulting” services, which Mr. Wallace said included erecting solar panels on three community centres in poor Baltimore neighbourhoods.

Meanwhile, the three founders became media darlings in the Baltimore area, receiving glowing coverage in the Baltimore Sun and other news outlets.

“I think we can impact underserved urban communities nationwide,” Mr. Lewis told the regional magazine I95 Business in June 2019. “It’s important for people to understand … we are not just a solar company; we are a movement.”

But behind the scenes, all was not well.

Lawsuits

In 2018, the year Mr. Wallace’s firm received nearly $370,000 from the non-profit foundation, he was facing mounting allegations of unpaid debt.

And between November 2018 and June 2020, he and various Power52 entities were hit with at least five lawsuits in Maryland.

Though Mr. Wallace and Ms. Brooks have repeatedly denied wrongdoing in court filings, judges have usually sided with their accusers: Mr. Wallace and his firm have been ordered to pay more than $900,000 to two plaintiffs so far; the non-profit foundation has been ordered to pay more than $450,000 to another; and two other cases involving total claims worth more than $500,000 continue to play out in the legal system.

Four of the lawsuits stemmed from Mr. Wallace’s involvement in one of his father’s projects, a ten-megawatt solar field in rural Maryland called Nixon’s Farm.

There, Mr. Wallace built one of the farm’s five solar plants under the Power52 Energy Solutions umbrella.

But by early 2019, two companies had sued him in connection with this section of the project.

Both claimed that he had breached his contract and failed to pay bills on time, and one alleged that he had missed construction deadlines, committed fraud by signing unauthorised contracts, and misused funds set aside to pay subcontractors.

In October 2019, a court issued default judgments ordering Mr. Wallace to pay a total of more than $900,000 to the two firms.

About three months later, one of the firms filed yet another lawsuit as it tried to collect on its judgment.

This time, the firm claimed that Mr. Wallace and Ms. Brooks, who had filed for divorce in May 2019, had conspired to dodge Mr. Wallace’s debt by fraudulently transferring part ownership of a house to her as their divorce proceeding unfolded. The firm won a default judgment last month.

Power52 workers helped build the Nixon’s Farm solar field in rural Maryland. A section of the project would later lead to lawsuits against Power52 Energy Solutions and its CEO, Rob Wallace Jr. (Photo: POWER52 ENERGY SOLUTIONS)

Also ongoing is a joint lawsuit filed by four other firms alleging that Mr. Wallace owes them more than $280,000 in connection with Nixon’s Farm and other projects.

In interviews with the Beacon this month, Mr. Wallace denied missing construction deadlines at Nixon’s Farm or committing any fraud or other wrongdoing.

Though he acknowledged some outstanding debts, he blamed them on an unforeseen change in a county tax code that he said caused his financier to withhold a final payment for the Nixon’s Farm project, leaving him unable to pay subcontractors.

The financier, he said, will soon release the money, allowing him to settle his debts.

Last March, the non-profit Power52 Foundation also was sued: A family-run construction company claimed it was paid less than a third of what it was owed for renovating the foundation’s office space.

In an October 2020 ruling, a court ordered the foundation to pay nearly $460,000 to the company and established a lien against its leasehold interests in the project.

During interviews with the Beacon, Mr. Wallace said he was completely unaffiliated with that lawsuit, which names only the foundation and Ms. Brooks as respondents.

But a representative for the plaintiff told the Beacon that Mr. Wallace had helped negotiate the firm’s contract in the first place.

Tax trouble

In the midst of these lawsuits, Mr. Wallace also has run into tax trouble.

Between April and October 2019, Power52 Energy Solutions was saddled with at least four tax liens from the Internal Revenue Service and one from the comptroller of Maryland, which ordered the firm to pay a total of nearly $168,000.

Also in October 2019, the Maryland comptroller forfeited the company because of “outstanding taxes owed,” comptroller press secretary Alan Brody told the Beacon.

More recently, Power52 Clean Energy Access — the firm that won the Anegada contract last June — temporarily was deemed “not in good standing” by the state of Maryland after it failed to file its annual report for 2020 in time, but it is now back in good standing.

Mr. Wallace claimed the tax liens were another byproduct of delayed payments for his work on Nixon’s Farm and other similar projects.

Most of the overdue sums have been paid, he added, and a payment plan has been inked for him to finish off the last portion, which he said is somewhere between $25,000 and $55,000.

VI bidding process

More than 1,600 miles away from the legal drama unfolding in Maryland in 2019, the BVI Electricity Corporation was facing its own turmoil.

Weeks after Mr. Fahie’s Virgin Islands Party government came to power in the February 2019 election, his Cabinet quietly dissolved the BVIEC’s board of directors without appointing replacements.

Nevertheless, the corporation was moving ahead that year with its plan to seek a solar developer to install a utility-scale solar grid on Anegada.

The initiative was a crucial step towards the government’s 2013 green energy goals, which had been stymied repeatedly as the territory continued to generate nearly all of its electricity from fuel while neighbouring islands increasingly turned to renewable alternatives.

The Anegada solar field, officials said, would finally check off one of the 2013 goals: reducing the amount of fossil fuel used for electricity on the sister island by 80 percent by 2021.

In early October 2019, the BVIEC was still without a board, but it advertised a request for proposals for the project.

The following month, Cabinet resolved on Nov. 7 to ask the House of Assembly to appoint Ms. Flax as board chairwoman for a three-year period, and approved the three-year appointments of Wayne Robinson as vice-chairman and Hymen Husein as a member, and the two-year appointments of Pearl Smith and Jasen Fahie, according to a Cabinet summary of that meeting.

The HOA subsequently approved Ms. Flax’s appointment effective Nov. 15, 2019 amid opposition criticism of the seven-month delay.

The RFP

Meanwhile, the bidding process for the Anegada project was under way.

After the RFP was announced, 135 companies got in touch to request the RFP documents, which required each bidder to submit a proposal for two different types of contract: an engineering, procurement, and construction contract known as an EPC, in which the firm would be paid by the BVIEC to build the grid; and a power purchase agreement known as a PPA, in which the firm would finance construction itself and then sell the energy back to the utility for a fixed price over time.

The Anegada solar field is to be installed on land adjacent to the island’s power station (top right), but work hasn’t started yet. (Photo: FREEMAN ROGERS)

Of the 76 companies that received the RFP documents, 30 signed up for a site visit on Dec. 11, 2019, and five ultimately submitted bids by the Feb. 24 deadline, 16 days before Covid-19 was declared a pandemic.

Instead of holding a press conference to open sealed bids in keeping with its usual practice for major contracts, the BVIEC disclosed basic information about the offers in a press release issued on March 31, 2020.

While the press release stated the cost of each proposal’s EPC price plan, “claimed diesel offset,” and solar storage capacity, it omitted the prices for the proposals’ PPA scenarios and provided few other details.

The bidder with the cheapest EPC price tag and greatest diesel offset was Power52 Clean Energy Access, according to the announcement.

Power52 claimed its grid would cost $4,687,944.72 to build and have a “diesel offset” of 95 percent, the BVIEC stated, without explaining the term “diesel offset.”

The second cheapest EPC option — at $4,751,061 — was submitted by Advanced Solar Products, a New Jersey-based firm that had partnered with former BVIEC executive Henry Creque, VI solar developer Dana Miller, and BMR Energy, a New York-based solar firm owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group.

Their proposal, however, had the lowest “diesel offset” of the bunch, at 86 percent.

Power52 chosen

On July 17, 2020, Ms. Flax announced during a press conference that the tender process had been completed after the bids were evaluated by DN VGL, a Norway-headquartered consulting firm hired to help develop the RFP, review the project proposals, and monitor the quality of construction, among other tasks.

“Based on the overwhelming results of the bid evaluation process in favour of Power52 Clean Energy, the board of directors made a decision to award the [project contract] to Power52,” Ms. Flax said.

She added that the firm — which said it had partnered with the Dominican Republic-based Rensa and the Germany-based SMA Sunbelt Energy — had submitted the lowest bid for both of the required options.

Under its PPA option, Power52 would finance construction of the grid itself and then sell energy back to the utility for “22 cents,” she said, apparently referring to a rate per kilowatt hour.

This rate, she added, was 14 cents cheaper than the nearest competitor, who she did not identify.

She did not disclose the PPA scenarios proposed by the other competing firms.

Instead, she explained that DNV GL graded each company’s EPC and PPA proposals out of 100 points, and that Power52 had received the highest grade for both packages, at 81 points.

Ms. Flax provided few details about the metrics used to score these proposals, though she said that DNV GL considered the companies’ qualifications and experience as well as the proposed technical specifics, contractual costs and diesel offset.

BVI Electricity Corporation General Manager Leroy Abraham, left, and chairwoman Rosemarie Flax talk to the media during a July 17 press conference where they announced the winner of the Anegada solar project. (File photo: JOEY WALDINGER)
Questions raised

Soon after Ms. Flax announced the winner, Mr. Creque, an electrical engineer and former BVIEC executive who ran unsuccessfully as a National Democratic Party candidate in the 2019 election, issued a statement raising doubts about the transparency and ethicality of the tender process.

He was not alone.

Executives representing two other bidders later told the Beacon that they shared similar concerns.

Like Mr. Creque, Alonso Alvarez, the Mexico-based managing director of HEG Energy, and Anthony Warner, the CEO and president of the Canada-based Virtual Engineers, complained that DNV GL had communicated poorly and acted with a lack of transparency throughout the tender process.

Mr. Alvarez said he wasn’t informed that his bid was no longer under consideration until he emailed DNV GL about four months after the submission deadline, and Mr. Warner said he didn’t learn the tender had concluded until an interview with this reporter in September.

Beyond questions about transparency, the three bidders also complained about issues they said inflated the cost of bidding, including a rushed timeline; poor communication; and the requirement to include two separate price-package scenarios.

Each bidder was also required to pay a non-refundable fee of $10,000, which they described as standard practice for such projects.

Of all the bidders interviewed for this article, Mr. Wallace was the only one who reported a positive experience during the bid process, although he said he was focused on the technical aspects of his firm’s offer, while the submission itself was handled by Power52 Energy Solutions Vice President Kellyann Few, who declined to be interviewed for this article.

Representatives for the Canada-based Tugliq Energy, the fifth company to bid for the project, did not respond to requests for comment.

Denied RFP

For Mr. Creque, the red flags went up even before he started pulling his bid together, as the BVIEC initially denied him the request for proposals, he said.

Between Oct. 9 and 29, 2019, Mr. Creque sent five emails to DNV GL.

In the first two, he requested the RFP documents.

On Oct. 17, DNV GL replied, “Sorry for the late reply. By our initial assessment, you do not meet the requirements to receive a copy of this RFP. If you are representing a well-established company, please provide sufficient information as proof so we’ll be able to change our decision.” Like other emails from DNV GL that Messrs. Creque and Alvarez shared with the Beacon, the message was signed only “DNV GL — BVIEC RFP team” and did not include the name of a DNV GL consultant.

Incensed by this response, Mr. Creque wrote back on Oct. 21, claiming that DNV GL had never previously mentioned that certain qualifications were required to receive the RFP.

He also argued that his 27-year career — in which he rose from engineer-in-training to deputy general manager of the BVIEC — and his knowledge of the territory’s power grid and of solar technology in general, were evidence that his company, Creque’s Engineering, was well qualified to receive the RFP.

After two days without a response, Mr. Creque sent another email.

In all his experience of working with international firms, he claimed, DNV GL’s unresponsiveness was “unheard of and unprecedented,” especially considering the time and effort required to prepare a bid package on such an aggressive schedule.

DNV GL responded on Oct. 24, writing that its screening process required each applicant to provide a portfolio of past projects similar to the one slated for Anegada.

Five days later, Mr. Creque responded, “For clarification, please confirm that you are saying that each and every company who has received a copy of the RFP was requested to provide you [this information], and that I am being treated absolutely no differently from any other person or organisation, although your public advertisement for the RFP makes no mention of this requirement.”

He added in the email that the firm appeared to be asking him to disclose part of his “corporate strategy” to a “generic email address” with no attached names at the early stages of what was supposed to be a transparent tender process.

“Therefore, before I consider disclosing this information I am respectfully requesting to be provided with the names, positions and organisations of all individuals copied on this email address and who will be privy to the information I provide,” Mr. Creque wrote.

Mr. Creque told the Beacon that he never received a response to this email, and he learned more about the terms of the bidding process only after joining the team of another bidder.

On Oct. 11, 2019, the BVI Electricity Corporation advertised a request for proposals on its Facebook page (above), but it only provided the RFP documents to select bidders. (Screenshot: FACEBOOK)
Emailed bids

But as the tender rolled on, Mr. Creque said, he continued to see a lack of transparency, especially when DNV GL veered from established practice in the VI and asked that the bids be emailed to the same address instead of submitted in a sealed envelope to be opened in public.

In the VI, sealed bids typically are deposited in a locked box by a predetermined deadline in order to ensure that they can’t be copied or altered during the procurement process, according to Neil Smith, a former financial secretary who is currently the director of programme strategy at the Recovery and Development Agency.

Once the submission deadline passes, the entity then unseals the bids in the presence of the bidders, where basic information about the proposals, such as the overall price, is revealed, Mr. Smith told the Beacon.

“Once somebody submits a tender, … you should have no way of looking at what that person’s doing,” Mr. Smith explained.

Public finance act

Asking bidders to send their submissions via email is also out of step with the Public Finance Management Regulations of 2005, which outline various rules aimed at keeping bid submissions confidential, he added.

According to the regulations, which govern the central government, “A tender shall not be evaluated unless it is sent in a sealed envelope addressed to the Central Tenders Board under confidential cover.”

Mr. Smith explained that statutory bodies such as the BVIEC have some freedom in how they structure their procurement processes, but they still have to adhere to the overarching principles of the Public Finance Management Act and Regulations.

He acknowledged that this requirement can present a tricky balancing act, and said he suspects that in deciding to request online submissions instead of sealed envelopes, the utility first would have sought guidance from either the Ministry of Finance or the attorney general.

“My inclination, if I go to a statutory body and I see that they are doing something that is contrary to … the Public Finance Management Act, I would get a legal opinion from the [attorney general] right away, because it would be running afoul of what the government would expect,” he said, adding, “The reason for this is the statutory body is accountable to the government of the Virgin Islands, and the government of the Virgin Islands is accountable to the people.”

Though in today’s technology-driven age there is some utility in accepting tenders online, and password protections and other safeguards could protect the bids, collecting them in this manner nevertheless deviates from established practice in the territory, Mr. Smith said.

“I’ve never known about that happening in the BVI,” he said of emailed bid submissions.

Other bidders

Mr. Creque was not the only bidder concerned about a lack of transparency from DNV GL.

Like Mr. Creque, Mr. Alvarez said he felt squeezed by the timeframe allotted for assembling his proposal, and his firm spent about $40,000 and numerous man-hours on the effort.

During the process of gathering the information he needed for his bid package — which included negotiating with subcontractors and researching local labour and equipment — Mr. Alvarez said that DNV GL provided sparse feedback to his questions, and that he sometimes had to send several emails to elicit a response.

DNV GL’s lack of communication further perplexed Mr. Alvarez when the BVIEC “suddenly” issued the March 31 press release listing the EPC prices and basic characteristics of the respective bids, he said.

After seeing what their competitors had proposed, he added, he and his team wanted to come back to the table with a tweaked version of their proposal, but DNV GL told them to wait until it published a “shortlist” of finalists.

This list never materialised, but Mr. Alvarez and his team proceeded to send DNV GL a more “aggressive” version of its bid, which was 20 percent cheaper than what it had previously proposed, he explained.

“We wanted to make it a no-brainer for the [BVIEC] to move forward with us,” Mr. Alvarez said.

‘Another bid’

On June 5, Mr. Alvarez’s colleague Callum Porteous, who worked with Mr. Alvarez on the proposal, emailed DNV GL to ask when the contract winner would be announced.

The firm responded in a June 8 email: “After a detailed review and consideration of all the submitted proposals, clarification emails and meetings, the evaluation committee has chosen another bid to move forward with. We truly appreciate your participation in this process and wish you all success in your future business endeavours.”

The next day, Mr. Alvarez wrote back to DNV GL, asking for details about the results of the tender, including who won and the prices and characteristics of their proposal.

“I think after the time and money invested in this tender, that is the least the bidders should know,” Mr. Alvarez wrote in the email.

DNV GL replied in a June 10 email: “Thank you for your inquiry. Responses from all bidders are treated with confidentiality. BVIEC will be issuing an official press release on the results of the Anegada Renewable Energy Project bid in the upcoming weeks.”

Mr. Alvarez told the Beacon that the lengthy period of silence from DNV GL made him doubt that the bids were being evaluated fairly.

“It brings uncertainty if someone has a backchannel communication,” Mr. Alvarez said in a Sept. 21 interview.

“You should make the process a lot faster so this doesn’t have to happen.”

Asking for details

Mr. Warner, the Virtual Engineers CEO, echoed many of the concerns shared by Messrs. Alvarez and Creque, including the added effort and costs posed by the need to include PPA and EPC pricings and the short timeframe allotted.

But he said he was most perturbed that DNV GL asked him questions about the battery system in his proposal after his bid had been submitted.

Once the prices of the bid packages had been published on March 31, Mr. Warner did not understand why DNV GL continued to press him for details about his battery pack, and he began to worry that it was trying to take his team’s ideas, he said.

“We actually felt very upset at that last communication [with DNV GL], because we found that they were wanting to get our system as [a] design to utilise somewhere else,” Mr. Warner said.

Wallace’s perspective

Mr. Wallace told a very different story, explaining that he had no qualms with the bidding process.

In fact, he said it was run “a lot better than a lot of the projects I’ve bid on.”

While contenders including Mr. Warner called the site visit an unnecessary burden that served mostly to increase the cost of the bid, Mr. Wallace said that it was helpful, as was the question-and-answer session held the next day.

Mr. Wallace told the Beacon that he personally had limited contact with DNV GL, and initially said he did not recall the name of the firm.

As the leader of the submission process, Ms. Few was in much closer communication with DNV GL, Mr. Wallace said, estimating that she had between 30 and 40 correspondences with the firm’s consultants.

The consultants quickly responded to questions from Ms. Few and sought out detailed information about Power52’s proposal, Mr. Wallace said.

Like the other bidders, Mr. Wallace said he paid a $10,000 fee as part of the bidding requirements.

Once his contract is finalised with the BVIEC, he added, he will post a bond equivalent to a percentage of the project’s overall cost as an additional security fee.

Mr. Wallace also expressed scepticism about the losing bidders’ concerns.

“The fact that those complaints were not brought up before money was submitted and an award was made makes me say, ‘All right, I’m not sure how legit they are,”’ Mr. Wallace said. “You’re not going to put $10,000 into something you think is unfair.”

Six companies have sued Rob Wallace Jr. and his firm Power52 Energy Solutions in connection with a section of the Nixon’s Farm solar project (above) in rural Maryland, altogether claiming they are owed more than $1 million. Mr. Wallace admitted to owing some money to the firms, but he blamed an unexpected change in a county tax code and said he is expecting a tax break that will allow him to settle his debts very soon. (Photo: BITHENERGY.COM)
DNV GL response

Bethany Genier, DNV GL Energy’s North America communications manager, declined to set up an interview with anyone who consulted on the tender process, citing “the current busy schedule of our experts,” though she did respond to questions via email.

Asked about DNV GL’s role in the process, she wrote on Jan. 8, “DNV GL has supported the BVIEC, and many other utilities in the region of a similar size, with their renewable energy procurement strategies, including the drafting of this industry-standard RFP and minimum design requirements.

“The technical requirements for the project were based on industry best practice and based on the same templates as DNV GL has developed and used across more than 50 procurement processes in [the] Caribbean and North America in the last several years. The technical bid evaluation criteria were published along with the RFP and aligned to industry norms and BVIEC’s standard commercial practices.”

The RFP, however, was not released to the public, and Ms. Flax said during the July ceremony that only bidders who met the “stringent guidelines” established by DNV GL were furnished with the materials.

Ms. Genier did not respond to emails asking for clarification about her claim that the RFP and bid evaluation criteria were “published.”

In response to an earlier email, though, Ms. Genier explained that DNV GL also helped review the bids.

“DNV GL did support BVIEC with a technical and commercial review of received bids against the RFP’s published evaluation criteria,” she wrote on Jan. 18.

“It is common industry practice to have a third party help with crafting the RFP and evaluation criteria, and to have the same team evaluate the bids against the published, established criteria.”

Asked on Jan. 22 if the firm stands by the tender process despite the losing bidders’ concerns, she didn’t respond, and she never named any DNV GL employees who had worked on the project.

Still involved?

Meanwhile, the firm’s work here may not be done.

During the July press conference announcing the contract, Ms. Flax said the BVIEC’s agreement with DNVGL includes the Anegada project’s construction phase, when the firm will “monitor work quality, adherence to contract specifications and applicable norms, prudent industry practices and compliance with quality programmes from the contractor.”

The premier, who is also the finance minister, did not respond to requests for an interview for this article, and neither did Attorney General Dawn Smith; Glenroy Forbes, who served as financial secretary at the time of the bidding process; current acting Financial Secretary Jeremiah Frett; BVIEC General Manager Leroy Abraham; Mr. Lewis, the Power52 co-founder; representatives of Rensa and SMA Sunbelt Energy; or Ms. Flax, the BVIEC chairwoman.

What’s next?

Mr. Wallace said this month that the details of his Anegada contract are still being negotiated, but he expressed confidence that the deal will be finalised as an EPC, with the BVIEC or government fronting the construction costs.

It is not clear when construction will start, but Mr. Wallace said he hopes to begin work in May and complete the project before the Anegada Lobster Festival, which is typically held in late November.

A May start date would come on the heels of what will be the first graduation for the Power52 Caribbean Energy Institute, which kicked off on Jan. 18 with its first day of classes.

During a reception that day, Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration Minister Vincent Wheatley (R-D9) said the classes aim to prepare students for employment at the Anegada solar plant, which will also serve as a field laboratory during training.

During a reception to celebrate the launch of the solar technician training programme on Jan. 18, government ministers mingled with Power52 instructors. (File photo: JOEY WALDINGER)

The premier also spoke at the reception, saying that the HLSCC programme will help ensure that Virgin Islanders will play a leading role in what his administration hopes will be a burgeoning industry in the territory.

“We have to recognise that we have to get our people ready, because the future belongs to the prepared,” Mr. Fahie said.

Recalling how the HLSCC programme was conceived, the premier said that the seed was planted after the launch of the college’s marine training programme, when he asked then-acting HLSCC President Dr. Richard Georges if it would be possible to build a similar programme for renewable energy.

They then brought Mr. Abraham on board, and donors subsequently joined the effort, the premier said.

Necker conference

For his part, Mr. Wallace said his interest in the territory was first piqued when Mr. Lewis attended a conference at Necker Island after the 2017 hurricanes.

There, he explained, Mr. Lewis met Tennessee real estate developer Britnie Turner, who through her Aerial Global Community initiative documented the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria. Ms. Turner then introduced Messrs. Lewis and Wallace to various government officials, including then-Premier Dr. Orlando Smith and Mr. Fahie, he said.

Before the Anegada project was announced, Mr. Wallace added, he started working with a VI-based company called Caribbean Alternative Energy, which hopes to develop a utility-scale solar project in the Coxheath area of Tortola.

An initial iteration of that project fell through, but Mr. Wallace said CAE now has chosen a firm to build a five-megawatt installation at Cox-heath.

However, he declined to name the firm, and the BVIEC has not made a related announcement recently.

Scholarships

In the meantime, Mr. Wallace said, he and Mr. Lewis also met with Dr. Georges and discussed how they could create a training programme here.

“The community college said, ‘Well, look, we’d be interested in hosting you guys,’” Mr. Wallace said. “But I told them, ‘The key there would be: … Our job is to help you guys set it up and teach you the skills you need. Your job is to run with it.’”

During the Jan. 18 reception launching the classes, the premier said scholarship funding from donors was essential to making the HLSCC programme a reality.

In July 2020, the month after Power52 was awarded the contract for the Anegada solar project, Unite BVI provided a $362,000 grant to HLSCC to help cover the costs of tuition from 2020 through 2022, according to Dr. Georges.

As of mid-February, 38 students were enrolled in the 11-week programme, which has a $12,500 price tag, Dr. Georges said.

Of the 33 students receiving financial support, 23 are receiving full or partial scholarships from Unite BVI, while the rest are being funded by donors including the college and the BVIEC, according to the president.

Five students are paying out of pocket, he added.

Students learn about solar technology last month through H. Lavity Stoutt Community College’s partnership with the Power52 Caribbean Energy Institute. Government officials said the programme is designed to train Virgin Islanders for jobs in an emerging alternative-energy sector in the territory. (Photo: HLSCC)
‘We’re coming’

Anegada residents Darrell Ruan Jr., Kelwyn Faulkner Lindsay, and Keathly Charles all applied for the solar tech training programme through the office of their district representative, Mr. Wheatley.

They were pleasantly surprised to arrive for their first day on Jan. 18 and learn that they were among the five Anegadans to receive full scholarships.

During the reception that day, they had only positive things to say about the first day of training, saying they were grateful for the financial support and impressed by the government’s effort in getting the programme off the ground.

But they didn’t play down the personal sacrifice involved in attending, including time away from their families when they are required to travel from Anegada to Tortola for classes.

Nonetheless, with a promise of employment waiting after graduation, all three were undeterred.

“We’re coming,” Mr. Ruan said, adding, “We gotta get it done.”


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