Solar Power Ideal for Going Off Power Grid, Boyd Tells IGBA Members

Lovango Cay resident Dan Boyd tells IGBA members about living off the grid.

Rising WAPA rates leave V.I.  residents frustrated and their wallets drained, but there’s a way to live without the power company, 15-year Lovango resident Dan Boyd told a packed crowd at the Island Green Building Association’s Thursday, January 12, annual meeting at The Marketplace.

Boyd, who has lived off the grid on Lovango Cay for 15 years, employs a combination of wind and solar power to keep his island home running.

Wind generators, however, are not ideal for generating power on St. John, he explained, and the process to install one is arduous at best.

Fish and Wildlife must first visit and approve the site when a homeowner wants to install a wind generator. The entire system must be engineered and approved by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, and a DPNR inspector must visit during construction to approve the process.

“Wind power is not that good on St. John,” said Boyd. “An average of 15 miles per hour is ideal, and our winds tend to range from 9.2 to 13.2 miles per hour. I believe that solar is the answer here.”

While initial startup costs can be quite high, a homeowner who purchases enough solar panels to supply the maximum set by WAPA of 10 kilowatts can expect a return on their investment within less than four years, according to Boyd’s calculations.

There are several configurations one can use when generating their own power, Boyd explained: off the grid, where a homeowner is responsible for generating and storing all of their own power; grid tie, where any extra power generated goes to WAPA in exchange for credits; grid tie with power backup, where a battery bank takes over if WAPA fails; and grid fallback, which allows a homeowner to switch to grid power when their batteries are low.

It’s not hard to see how the current local rate of 48 cents per kilowatt hour adds up quickly to outrageous power bills, Boyd explained.

“It costs approximately $34.50 per month to leave one ceiling fan on all the time,” he said. “The average refrigerator costs $80 per month to run.”

For those who don’t have the cash necessary to implement a solar system at their home, there are ways to cut down on power usage.

A full refrigerator uses less energy than an empty one, Boyd explained. Additionally, residents should beware of “vampire appliances” like cell phone chargers, televisions and cable boxes, which draw power even when they aren’t on or charging.

“The quickest and easiest solution is to plug these in to a power strip, and turn off the strip when they aren’t in use,” said Boyd.
Regardless of whether residents decide to use alternative power or cut back on their power consumption, it’s obvious that such changes can alleviate the pressure of rising power costs, Boyd explained.

“We’ve got the highest power rates in America and I don’t see it going any lower,” he said. “If you’ve got the money in the bank to do solar you’re crazy not to do it, because WAPA rates will keep going up.”