On Friday, April 14, 2023, the Virgin Islands Energy Office (VIEO) broke ground on the construction of a 150 kW Solar plus 300 kW battery micro-grid at the St. Croix Educational Complex (SCEC).
On Wednesday, July 5, 2023, the VIEO was notified that more than 100 solar panels, which account for approximately 50 kW of solar power, were stolen from the active and secured job-site at the Educational Complex on St. Croix. The culprits of this grand larceny cut through the perimeter fence of the jobsite, dismantled packaging that housed the solar equipment, removed panels and fled the scene undetected. All the solar equipment that was stolen from the site was funded by the Department of Interior’s Energizing Insular Communities (EIC) $625,000.00 grant awarded to the VIEO.
The EIC provides grant funding for energy strategies that reduce the cost of electricity and reduce dependence on foreign fuels, both omnipresent burdens the VIEO strives to relieve through strategic energy-related project development. Federal resources such as these offer unique no-cost opportunities to improve the energy landscape of the territory, and the Biden administration has committed hundreds of millions more to support the territory’s clean energy transition.
Senseless acts of selfishness such as this brazen theft of federally funded energy cost saving assets undermines the Virgin Islands’ ability to leverage these and future opportunities.
The federally funded solar plus battery micro-grid was an innovative solution intended to support the SCEC during both normal operation and emergency conditions. The renewable energy system was designed to allow the SCEC emergency shelter areas to function reliably during extended grid outages and significantly reduce the use of fossil fuel generators that have proven difficult to maintain and costly to fuel. Under blue-sky conditions the solar system will aid in offsetting approximately $9,000 per month in electrical utility costs the school incurs under normal operation.
The project was slated to be completed by August 2023, just ahead of the height of the hurricane season and the beginning of the new school year. However, the theft of nearly a third of the needed solar materials severely compromises the project timeline and puts the successful completion of the project in jeopardy.
Since the groundbreaking in April 2023, the pace of construction has been rapid. The favorable project pace is evidenced by the completion of civil sitework, the installation of more than 120 solar panels, and major electrical infrastructure beginning to take form. With the tangible benefits of the project nearing reality for the community, the consequences of this intentional derailment of progress are further emphasized.
It is essential that the culprits of this heinous crime and anyone associated be fully aware that the perceived benefits of leveraging stolen federally funded assets will be short-lived. Local and federal enforcement resources will be committed to the recovery of these stolen assets. And anyone attempting to sell, procure, install or export the stolen, federally funded materials, will be held accountable and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.