This article originally appeared in the Beacon’s print edition on Nov. 15.
Long-delayed renewable energy regulations took effect at the start of this month, lifting a major obstacle that had dissuaded many businesses and homeowners from adopting alternatives to the fossil fuels that still power the vast majority of the territory’s electricity needs.
The legislation will enable solar and other renewable energy systems to feed excess power into the main electrical grid.
The measure has been a long time coming. For more than a decade, leaders have promised measures to encourage the use of green energy locally, and pledges to allow “grid-tie” connections have been on the government’s legislative agenda for at least five years.
Charlotte McDevitt, executive director of the non-profit Green VI, called the new regulations a “great start.”
“We were really excited to see [the regulations] are finally through,” she told the Beacon on Tuesday. “There’s really an opportunity post-Irma in terms of renewable energy, so I’m glad to see the government’s commitment towards this goal.”
Dana Miller, managing director of aTec — a VI power generation company that focuses on renewable energy systems — had similar thoughts. Last July, aTec started an online petition in the hopes of moving the regulations ahead.
“It is a huge step forward,” Mr. Miller said Tuesday. “I think there are still some of the finer points that need to be ironed out, but on the whole it is a great move in the right direction for the BVI.”
BVIEC General Manager Leroy Abraham said that for roughly 15 years the BVIEC has had a “strategic objective” to diversify energy production in the territory.
“With the enabling legislation now in place to support the renewable energy industry locally, this is not only the beginning of securing a more sustainable and resilient energy future for the territory, but will also demonstrate that the BVI is doing its part to combat climate change,” he said.
Decreasing fossil fuels
Communications and Works Minister Mark Vanterpool said that government initiatives will ensure that by 2021 fossil fuel imports will have decreased by 20 percent and that 50 percent of
consumers will be using “energy conservation measures.”
By 2023, he said, 30 percent of the territory’s energy will be supplied by renewable means.
“Even as we continue to import oil and gasoline for our energy and transportation needs, efforts intensify to reduce our vulnerability to this risk,” he said.
In 2016 the BVIEC publicised an energy policy, which was hailed as a step towards pursuing more renewable options as well as a more consistent power supply. At the time, BVIEC officials also reported that the territory still relied on imported oil and gasoline for more than 97 percent of its energy needs.
In that respect, the VI is behind many of its neighbours in the region. In the United States VI, for example, 20 percent of generation capacity is already derived from solar, and the legislature requires renewable energy sources to fuel 30 percent of the peak demand electric generating capacity by 2025, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
Years of challenges
For decades, this territory’s legal framework discouraged or banned the use of alternative energy in most cases.
The 1979 BVIEC Ordinance prohibited installing solar-generating systems anywhere a connection to the grid was available, except as a secondary power source similar to a backup diesel generator.
Also under that law, no one besides the BVIEC was permitted to generate electricity for anyone else without permission from the minister of communications and works. In considering granting such permission, the law said, the minister was to consult with the BVIEC, taking into account its plans and “giving precedence to” the BVIEC’s interests.
In 2013, then-Governor Boyd McCleary said that the government planned to amend electricity production rules “to allow for instances such as interconnecting renewable energy alternatives onto the grid.”
The same year, activists submitted a 1,500-signature petition to allow the practice, along with draft “clean energy” legislation.
“My government, in exploring the various options available in the area of alternative energy, will continue to work closely with BVIEC towards the modernisation of the Electricity Ordinance,” Mr. Mc- Cleary said in that year’s Speech from the Throne.
In 2015, lawmakers amended the BVIEC Act, paving the way for customers with renewable energy sources to participate in a “net-billing” system that will let them sell excess power they produce back to the BVIEC.
But while the amendment legalised net-billing in writing, the practice of feeding power into the grid technically remained illegal until follow-up regulations were finalised and passed, BVIEC Deputy General Manager Henry Creque previously told the Beacon. In November 2016, Mr. Creque said he expected those regulations would come sometime in 2017.
More to be done?
While those regulations have now been passed, Ms. McDevitt of Green VI said that government can do more.
“It’s exciting. We’ve been waiting for this for a while.The regulations themselves — it’s a great start,” she said Tuesday. “But we can look at better rates and more general incentives, like the exemption of import duty for renewable technologies, solar panels, wind generators, solar water heaters, and LED lights.”
The BVIEC encouraged residents who want to install renewable energy systems in their homes or businesses to familiarise themselves with the new legislation, and promised to release more information on the subject in the “coming weeks.”
The corporation also thanked its renewable energy consultants, including the Norway-based company DNV GL; the Clean Energy Solutions Center, which states on its website that it provides policy information and assistance to governments for clean energy technologies; and the Colorado-based non-profit organisation Rocky Mountain Institute.
Ron Potter, chairman of the BVIEC, called the new regulations a “monumental achievement for both the BVIEC and the territory as a whole.”
“I am pleased that this goal which was set by the corporation has finally come to fruition,”he said.