Solar Initiative Brings Affordable Energy Solutions to St. Thomas-St. John

Savan resident Moses Carty, right, watches a demonstration on how to charge his new portable solar generation unit. (Source photo by Ananta Pancham)

In 2021, the Solarize St. Thomas initiative began as a group purchasing program for solar panels aimed at reducing costs through collective buying power. This initiative has now laid the groundwork for a broader community project spearheaded by the Rotary Club of St. Thomas East Eco in collaboration with the Virgin Islands Conservation Society and Island Green Living that brings affordable solar solutions to residents with the greatest need.

With a generous $100,000 grant from the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, the project set out to bolster resilience in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. The goal was clear: provide solar power to low and moderate-income families, who are often the most affected by storms and frequent power outages yet the least able to afford backup power solutions.

“Everyone in the Virgin Islands should have access to solar battery backup,” said Doug White, environmental sustainability chair of the Rotary Club of St. Thomas East Eco. “But currently, only those who can pay for all the equipment upfront— which is essentially paying for 20 years of power in advance—can afford it. We wanted to make this technology available to those with the greatest economic need and reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in the process.”

Initially, the project provided six rooftop solar systems, but this proved challenging as many low and moderate-income families rent their homes, making rooftop installations impractical. The solution was Nature’s Generator—a portable solar unit featuring a 100-watt solar panel and inverter battery bank, compact enough to be easily moved and used, ideal for elderly and handicapped residents.

To ensure the solar units reached the intended recipients, the project partnered with Community Action Now (CAN), a Savan-based organization that certifies low and moderate-income recipients according to federal guidelines.

With an additional $50,000 from a private donor, the total funding for the project reached $150,000. This allowed the Rotary Club to subsidize the cost of the solar units for approved families, who could purchase them for just $350, while other residents can buy them at retail for $1,200.

“We want people to have some skin in the game,” White explained. “We subsidize the remaining cost to make these units affordable.”

Now in its third year, the project has 21 units on order, available for both retail and through CAN certification. Revenue from retail sales supports further assistance for low and moderate-income families, extending the reach of the grant funds.

Interested individuals can purchase units or donate through the Rotary Club’s website. Low and moderate-income families can apply for assistance at Community Action Now, located at the Romeo Malone Community Center in Savan.

“This initiative is crucial,” White emphasized. “Community Action Now is situated in the heart of the area with the greatest need, and with partners like the Island Green Living Association, we aim to make these units available throughout St. Thomas and St. John.”

The project has garnered positive feedback, with many residents appreciating the accessibility and reliability of the portable solar units. As the Rotary Club of St. Thomas East Eco continues its work, the vision of widespread solar energy resilience in the Virgin Islands moves closer to reality.