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USVI governor asks federal government for energy assistance

CaribbeanNewsNow
ST THOMAS, USVI — Governor John de Jongh has requested the US Department of Health and Human Services provide additional assistance to US Virgin Islanders struggling to pay their electricity bills.In a recent letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the governor petitioned for favorable consideration of another $1 million in Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funding for fiscal years 2013 to 2015 to deal with the territory’s “energy emergency.”

The territory’s government is trying to help low-income senior citizens and people with disabilities afford their power bills by greatly supplementing LIHEAP funding, having spent $1.5 million per year over the past few years on its own Energy Crisis Assistance Program. But with the highest electricity rates in the country, the local government is forced to cap the assistance it offers those in need, according to de Jongh.

“The geographic isolation of the US Virgin Islands, compounded by the inability to achieve an interconnected grid within the Territory, and therefore necessitating the operation of two isolated electric systems, has resulted in power generating costs from fuel oil combustion that currently exceeds 51 cents per kilowatt-hour, and based on current market factors are threatening to go even higher. That is 5x the stateside average, for an economy with a per capita income well below that of the poorest state, even before the closing last year of our largest employer and taxpayer, the HOVENSA refinery on St Croix,” de Jongh wrote.

US Virgin Islands utility customers currently pay two and a half times more per kilowatt-hour than residents of Hawaii, the state with the most expensive rate for electricity.

The governor noted the Department of Health and Human Service’s current efforts to help US Virign Islands shoulder the escalated power costs through relief and strategic guidance. But more help is needed.

“There is no doubt that the compounding effects of high unemployment, and high utility costs has put a tremendous squeeze on our families,” de Jongh said in the letter.

The tremendous costs are a result of almost full dependence on oil imports for generation of electricity in an era of increased costs for crude oil. The Virgin Islands is working on converting to liquefied natural gas and other fuel sources that should reduce energy costs by more than 30 percent. That solution is still more than two years away, and the territory’s low-income residents are in need of immediate help.

“We are requesting special consideration for LIHEAP funds for this year and the next two years. After that I expect that many of the initiatives my Administration is putting into place will result in lower electricity costs,” de Jongh wrote.

Those initiatives include large commercial solar projects that will provide 17 percent of the territory’s power, plans for utility-scale wind power, installation of a heat recovery steam generator, as well as upgrades to US Virgin Islands power plant turbines that will allow the burning of more than one type of fuel to produce electricity.

“Based upon the information shared above, I am respectfully requesting your assistance in exercising your discretionary authority to grant additional LIHEAP assistance to the US Virgin Islands,” de Jongh wrote.

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A Moment with the Registrar of Lands

CaribbeanNewsNow
ST THOMAS, USVI — Governor John de Jongh has requested the US Department of Health and Human Services provide additional assistance to US Virgin Islanders struggling to pay their electricity bills.In a recent letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the governor petitioned for favorable consideration of another $1 million in Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funding for fiscal years 2013 to 2015 to deal with the territory’s “energy emergency.”

The territory’s government is trying to help low-income senior citizens and people with disabilities afford their power bills by greatly supplementing LIHEAP funding, having spent $1.5 million per year over the past few years on its own Energy Crisis Assistance Program. But with the highest electricity rates in the country, the local government is forced to cap the assistance it offers those in need, according to de Jongh.

“The geographic isolation of the US Virgin Islands, compounded by the inability to achieve an interconnected grid within the Territory, and therefore necessitating the operation of two isolated electric systems, has resulted in power generating costs from fuel oil combustion that currently exceeds 51 cents per kilowatt-hour, and based on current market factors are threatening to go even higher. That is 5x the stateside average, for an economy with a per capita income well below that of the poorest state, even before the closing last year of our largest employer and taxpayer, the HOVENSA refinery on St Croix,” de Jongh wrote.

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US Virgin Islands utility customers currently pay two and a half times more per kilowatt-hour than residents of Hawaii, the state with the most expensive rate for electricity.

The governor noted the Department of Health and Human Service’s current efforts to help US Virign Islands shoulder the escalated power costs through relief and strategic guidance. But more help is needed.

“There is no doubt that the compounding effects of high unemployment, and high utility costs has put a tremendous squeeze on our families,” de Jongh said in the letter.

The tremendous costs are a result of almost full dependence on oil imports for generation of electricity in an era of increased costs for crude oil. The Virgin Islands is working on converting to liquefied natural gas and other fuel sources that should reduce energy costs by more than 30 percent. That solution is still more than two years away, and the territory’s low-income residents are in need of immediate help.

“We are requesting special consideration for LIHEAP funds for this year and the next two years. After that I expect that many of the initiatives my Administration is putting into place will result in lower electricity costs,” de Jongh wrote.

Those initiatives include large commercial solar projects that will provide 17 percent of the territory’s power, plans for utility-scale wind power, installation of a heat recovery steam generator, as well as upgrades to US Virgin Islands power plant turbines that will allow the burning of more than one type of fuel to produce electricity.

“Based upon the information shared above, I am respectfully requesting your assistance in exercising your discretionary authority to grant additional LIHEAP assistance to the US Virgin Islands,” de Jongh wrote.