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Senators See Opportunity to Rebuild U.S. Virgin Islands in a Sustainable Manner

by karin on November 30, 2017

Several senators on the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, led by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), have expressed their support when it comes to providing funding for rebuilding the U.S. Virgin Islands infrastructure that would be stormproof.

As the scientific community has agreed that hurricanes will likely be more common in the future due to the effects of climate change, this type of infrastructure would be absolutely necessary to ensure future financial stability and service reliability.

When U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Kenneth E. Mapp met with President Donald Trump in October, he laid out the idea of having a power grid that could withstand the region’s strong storms. Much of the grid would be located underground, making it easier to keep the power running—or get it back up quickly.

Residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands currently pay about 32 cents per kilowatt hour for their electricity, which is three times the national average. The federal government has also spent approximately $250M each time the Territory has been devastated by hurricanes, on five separate occasions, to rebuild the territory’s power grid after storms. Having a stormproof grid in place would prevent the federal government from having to continually shell out massive amounts of money, while also decreasing costs for all residents.

Moving forward with a sustainable vision

Governor Mapp’s most recent testimony on this issue was a part of a larger hearing organized by the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to collect information to help it determine how much funding the government should provide the territories for the purposes of rebuilding. Lawmakers have been particularly persistent with impressing the importance of a sustainable plan on representatives from these territories.

The U.S. Virgin Islands estimates it needs about $7.5 billion to fully recover, and it’s not clear if it will get this money. However, lawmakers did offer some encouraging signs in particularly important areas, such as getting funding for storm-damaged hospitals and implementing new forms of renewable energy and other solutions like underground power lines. Most of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are still without power two months after the storms.

Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) voiced his support for including more renewable energy in the power grid for the U.S. Virgin Islands moving forward. He said he believes it’s important to put the islands on a path toward 100 percent sustainability related to its energy policies and usage.

All senators agreed, however, that the U.S. Virgin Islands cannot and should not be rebuilt in the way it was. Efforts must be made to improve its resilience against storms and to prevent future recovery efforts from being so large and from taking so long.

Tom Bolt is Managing Attorney and Chair of the Government Relations Practice Group at BoltNagi PC, a full service business law firm on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.

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