At a time when much of the world is steadily switching to alternative energy, the Virgin Islands is falling further and further behind as it continues to generate nearly all its electricity from fossil fuel.
For this reason, the government’s plan to build a major solar grid on Anegada sounded like a good idea.
But where is the grid? We have no idea.
Government initially promised that it would be completed by September of this year, but work has not started, no planning application has been submitted, no contract has been made public, and leaders are mum.
Unfortunately, we suspect the delays stem at least in part from a poorly handled tender process.
In June 2020, the BVI Electricity Corporation bypassed two Virgin Islands firms and awarded a United States bidder a nearly $5 million contract to build the Anegada grid.
Premier Andrew Fahie said at the time that the BVIEC had used a “rigorous, transparent” process to evaluate the five bids received for the project, 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, providing convincing evidence that the bidding process lacked transparency and bypassed standard tender procedures outlined in the 2005 Public Finance Management Regulations.
Troublingly, 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.
These red flags alone were alarming. But then the Beacon discovered that 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.
Now, Mr. Wallace — who has denied wrongdoing in relation to the above allegations — is also facing criticism from students and instructors of the four-month training programme that he organised at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College at the start of this year with funding from government and the non-profit Unite BVI.
Two instructors say they weren’t paid as agreed and had to return to the United States much earlier than planned. And at least two Anegada students say they racked up debt to attend the training because they weren’t reimbursed as government promised and they never got the jobs they expected building the Anegada grid.
The latest public update on the project came when the premier said in May that the BVIEC would make an announcement very soon. We’re still waiting.
Meanwhile, Mr. Wallace, the premier, and BVIEC officials didn’t return our calls. At a time when progressive energy measures are essential for the territory’s future, their silence is deafening.
The public deserves a full explanation straightaway.
In 2013, government laid out various green-energy goals for the next decade, including generating 30 percent of the territory’s energy by renewable means by 2023; decreasing fossil fuel imports by 20 percent by 2021; reducing fossil fuel inputs to electricity on Anegada by 80 percent by 2021; and ensuring that 50 percent of consumers use some sort of renewable energy technology or energy conservation measures, among others.
The Anegada grid was the best hope for meeting even one of those goals. But that target now seems just as unlikely as the others.
When it comes to renewable energy, Virgin Islands leaders continue to drop the ball in a big way.