Thursday, January 29, 2015

Energy Office Gives Youngsters Environmental Lessons

The Virgin Islands Energy Office is participating in a St. Croix Environmental Association program geared to reach all the second and fourth graders on St. Croix with lessons about the environment.

The Energy Office lessons concern how the use of energy affects the environment. Rebekka Stone is implementing the program for SEA and has helped design lesson plans and student activities for the Energy Office. Don Buchanan of the Energy Office is making the presentations and working on the activities. The first program with Energy Office participation was held Jan. 27 at Sandy Point and was for second graders from St. Patrick’s School in Frederiksted.

The lesson specifically addresses how the burning of fossil fuels in vehicles and power plants emits CO2 in the atmosphere and how trees extract the carbon part from the atmosphere. Then Buchanan explains how when that cycle is disrupted (deforestation) or made lopsided (too much fossil fuel being burned) the atmosphere becomes unhealthy. Students are given suggestions about how their behavior, their use of energy, can contribute to a healthy environment.

The lesson is illustrated by an activity run by Stone. Students representing the Water and Power Authority and cars and trucks throw sponges, representing CO2 to students who are representing trees. It becomes obvious to students what happens when trees are cut down, trees absorbing carbon decrease; and, then, more cars are put on the road.  The exercise ends with many students throwing sponges but few gathering them up.

Upcoming presentations are Feb. 5, 4th grade, at Estate Thomas; Feb. 10, 2nd grade at Salt River, Columbus Landing; and Feb. 24, 2nd grade also at Salt River, Columbus Landing.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Energy Office to Begin LED Rebate Program

The Virgin Islands Energy Office, recognizing the significant savings that the use of LED lightbulbs can bring to residents’ Water and Power Authority electric bill, is setting up a program to give financial assistance to those buying LEDs. The program is slated to begin on April 1, 2015.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, LED bulbs use only 20 to 25 percent of the energy used by traditional incandescent light bulbs and they last 25 times as long. The LEDs have the advantage over CFLs of not containing mercury and of not being as fragile.

The Energy Office is now actively seeking local vendors to participate in the program. Vendors wishing to participate should call the Energy Office at 713.8436 ext. 3603.

For updates on when the program begins and information on other local energy issues, residents can visit the V.I. Energy Office website at

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Study of Virgin Islands wind resources released

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has completed a utility-scale, wind study of the U.S. Virgin Islands and made the report public this week.
Energy Office Director Karl Knight says data from the report can be used by the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority to guide the utility in its development of utility-scale wind farms.
Most of the $270,000 used to fund the project came from American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 funds, but local money also contributed. The project fell under the Energy Development in Island Nations (EDIN) initiative. Its USVI Energy Road Map, Charting the Course to a Clean Energy Future, calls for the reduction of fossil fuel use in the Virgin Island by 60 percent by 2025.
The Roadmap, produced by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Energy Office; had three scenarios which could produce from 12 MW to 33 MW of wind power for the Virgin Islands.
In releasing the report, the authors stated, “This report summarizes the data collected from two 60-meter meteorological towers and three sonic detection and ranging units on St. Thomas and St. Croix in 2012 and 2013. These results are an update to the previous feasibility study; the collected data are critical to the successful development of a wind project at either site.”
The report can be accessed online by clicking here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Chikungunya, Another Sign of Climate Change in the Virgin Islands?

Mosquito-borne diseases expanding their range. Hurricanes intensifying rapidly. Unprecedented amounts of seaweed washing up on our beaches and covering the sea in the channel between St. Croix and St. Thomas.
Is Climate Change coming to the Virgin Islands early? It is sloppy thinking to connect one incident to Climate Change. The real question and the connection to be made – What are the patterns we see; do they relate to what the scientists are telling us?
Two large concerns climatologists have are sea level rise and coral bleaching. I have not scientifically studied these areas. However, what I have observed and have heard from National Park Services rangers who have studied these areas gives no reason for comfort. Snorkelling at Tamarind Beach and diving off The Wall, I have seen dead coral. Walking Ha’Penny beach for a decade, I have found that it appears to be getting smaller and smaller.
But let’s leave those two concerns alone now. Let’s take mosquito borne diseases. In June of this year, the Virgin Islands had its first confirmed case of chikungunya, by September there were fifty cases. Chikungunya was found in Africa in the early 1950s, moved to India and Indian Ocean islands in the 1980s; now it is in the Caribbean in full force. Of course, we can’t off handily attribute chikungunya to Climate Change. Many factors are involved. What is worth noting is that this spread fits the predictions of scientists and it fits a pattern.
Here is what a report in the Health and Human Rights Journal said earlier this year.  “Chikungunya is a re-emerging arbovirus that causes significant morbidity and some mortality. Global climate change leading to warmer temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns allow mosquito vectors to thrive at altitudes and at locations where they previously have not, ultimately leading to a spread of mosquito-borne diseases.”
Climate Change denialists are correct in saying we can’t prophesize the future. However, human life has thrived because humans have been able to make calculations based on observations and use those calculations to make some good guesses about what is going to happen next. It might not be politically correct or economically comfortable to see what our continued addiction to fossil fuel holds for the future, but wise people should not ignore scientific observations and predictions.
Let’s look at seaweed. Yes, algae blooms come and go. In recent years   ugly green stuff has been growing by the boardwalk near Seaborne.    And it appears to be spreading further down toward Brew Pub. We can let that one go, too. It can be attributed to run-off of sewage in the area and not necessarily attributable to Climate Change, although scientific observations tell us algae of all sorts grows better in warm water.
It is harder to discount the huge amounts of Sargassum seaweed that is piling up on our beaches. It is not there because of sewage run off. John Farchette, who works at the East End Marine Park and a native Crucian, says he has never seen anything like this before.  We can attribute this to changing ocean currents. But guess what, scientists long time ago predicted that rising sea surface temperatures would cause changes in ocean currents.
Maybe, it is time to pay attention to what those scientists are saying. According to them, we are pumping 34 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere with our use of fossil fuel and other human endeavours. Half of that is sucked up by trees and the ocean (which is becoming more acidic, but that is another potential calamity we are too busy to think about now). Each 7 billion tons of CO2 raises the parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere by one or two parts per million. The scientists then alarm us with charts showing a correlation between the C02 in the atmosphere and temperature rise. It is easy to question those charts going back hundreds of thousands of years. How do they really know that? This is the place where the science denialist makes his confusion.  Most lay people don’t understand the science behind those charts, so some one can say it is just a scam made up by the scientists to enslave people. Well, if you believe that scientists did not really land a man on the moon, you can believe this is a scam too
However, the argument that Climate Change is a scam gets hard to justify when trends that are predicted get verified with observations -- personal observations as well as those contained in scientific papers.
The scam option also loses credibility when noted that the politicians who advocate the scam position hold their offices because of money supplied to them by those who profit from the use of fossil fuel.
Why are we not taking bold steps to save our environment?
The analogy of the addict is appropriate. The alcoholic or the drug addict ignores the mishaps along the way. The addiction just feels too good to give up. The addict goes until he hits rock bottom. Sometimes, with drastic action, recovery is possible. Sometimes it is too late.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Can Small Islands Show the World How To Fight Climate Change?

Island populations may bear the brunt of climate change more than other populations, so it should be no surprise that some islands have ramped up efforts to convert to non-fossil fuel energy sources. In the brief span of five years, the U.S. Virgin Islands have cut their oil consumption by 20 percent.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Life on St. Croix with no Gasoline

St. Croix resident Archie Corbett has figured out how to cut his gasoline use almost to zero. In 2014 he bought an Elf.  By legal definition the Elf is a bicycle, but as Archie drives it around the island it works as good as a car.
It has a solar-charged battery that assists his pedalling. He often keeps the vehicle going as fast as any U.S. Virgin Island road can take.
He not only saves on gas money, he gets good exercise. But if he is lazy he lets the battery charged by solar panels on the roof do all the work.
Click below for video.