STJ Community Foundation and Solarize St. John Strive to Make Solar Affordable

This modest Coral Bay home has 13 solar panels, as well as solar hot water and a Tesla powerwall. Photo provided by Annette Mattiuz)
This modest Coral Bay home has 13 solar panels, as well as solar hot water and a Tesla powerwall. Photo provided by Annette Mattiuz)

In January, Solarize St. John announced its initiative to make solar power affordable to residents of St. John through purchasing solar materials in bulk and taking advantage of federal tax credits.

The idea immediately stirred interest among middle-class homeowners and, of course, villa owners who can afford to make the investment, but low-income families who stand the most to gain from reduced energy costs have been less responsive.

Realizing that many St. John families cannot afford the upfront costs of installing solar energy systems, Solarize St. John has launched an initiative to offer discounts for all St. John residents and help as many as one hundred families purchase solar energy systems through crowdfunding.

A donation of $100,000 has already been made to start the campaign, according to Ken Haldin, one of the founders of Solarize St. John.

In a separate initiative with a similar goal, the St. John Community Foundation is starting its own fundraising campaign to introduce solar technology to clients of its Disaster Case Management Team.

“We have well over one hundred cases in our home repair program, and we know there are several candidates for solar energy,” said Celia Kalousek, executive director of the St. John Community Foundation. “We’re going to start with assistance in providing solar hot water systems as a way to introduce residents to the idea of solarization,” she said.

A St. John villa has a full array of solar panels.
A St. John villa has a full array of solar panels.

The St. John Community Foundation helps rebuild homes for the most vulnerable residents of St. John who suffered damage or lost their homes when Hurricane Irma tore through the islands in September 2017. They have partnered with other community organizations, including the St. John Long Term Recovery Team, Love City Strong, All Hands and Hearts, and Love for Love City, to form the Resilient Housing Initiative.

“We’re a completely local initiative,” said Kalousek. “We’re not involved with FEMA, or Emergency Home Repair Virgin Islands, or HUD, or any other federal agency. We help fill the gaps between other forms of assistance.

The STJ Community Foundation has set a goal of raising $75,000 for its solar hot water initiative known as St. John Going Solar. Donations can be made by following this link.

Solarize St. John has set a higher goal, $350,000, for Crowdfund St. John, its program to make solar energy more affordable.

They are still working out the details of how the money they raise will be distributed, but some of the funds will be directed to providing discounts to those who first sign contracts with Solarize St. John to purchase and install solar equipment by September.

Their haste is not a matter of choice. For 2019 only, residents and business owners who purchase solar equipment can apply for a 30 percent federal tax credit. After 2019, the amount of tax credit decreases annually until it is entirely eliminated for residential customers in 2023. Commercial developments will still be able to apply for some tax credits.

To create an incentive for residents and business owners to act quickly, Solarize St. John is offering discounts of 20 percent to the first 20 enrollees who sign up. A drawing will be held among these enrollees to offer an additional 20 percent discount to one residential customer and one business.

The income of these initial enrollees will not be considered for their participation in this discount program. Haldin explained that amassing a certain level of purchasing power to activate a bulk discount from distributors (within the timeframe) is critical to the program’s success.

Using solar energy is a no-brainer for residents of the Virgin Islands, according to the Solarize St. John website.

“While the cost of electricity on St. John can be four times higher than in the U.S., St. Johnians use half as much energy as the average American. Therefore, a small solar energy system can have a major impact on electricity burden,” the website says.

“In fact, just a 2.0 kw solar energy system (approximately 7-9 solar panels) can offset 70 percent of the average home’s electricity usage on St. John. A 2.0 kw solar energy system costs approximately $7,000 (before 30 percent tax credit) so our goal is to grant, on average, $3,500 to 100 low-income and medium-income families in St. John to offset 70 percent of their energy burden.”

Solarize St. John estimates that homeowners will be able to offset their investment within two years if they take advantage of the a 50 percent grant and the 30 percent tax credit, and be able to “enjoy free, clean energy for decades to come.”

The seed money to fund both the Solarize St. John and the St. John Community Foundation’s crowdfunding efforts comes directly from a resident of St. John through Island Green Living Association.

“Brad Camrud, the homeowner in Chocolate Hole, has been a proponent of solar energy for years,” said Haldin.

Camrud donated $75,000 to the Solarize St. John campaign, and $25,000 to the St. John Community Foundation effort.

“We have the opportunity to fundamentally change the cost of renewable energy for all while directly helping others who may never have another way of significantly and permanently lowering their families’ energy costs,” he said.

St. John residents who are interested in being a part of this program can enroll at the project’s website.

There is no obligation to purchase equipment upon enrolling. By signing up, applicants will qualify for a free consultation and evaluation of their site, including preliminary site design, energy usage profile, and financial analysis. Property owners can also get a 25-year outlook of the benefits of solar energy for their homes or businesses.