St. Croix Foundation (SCF), in collaboration with Sustainable Systems and Design International (SSDI), Lions Den Solar, and the VI Workforce Investment Board commit to build on their dedication to sustainable re-development by creating the Solar-supported Community Demonstration Project. This project will pilot a strategy for creating more resilient communities by installing solar-PV systems at four community centers and developing a youth workforce skills program to assist with the installation.
This initiative will create a replicable model of sustainable community development powered by affordable, energy cost reducing, solar-PV systems installed in neighborhood-based community centers. Utilizing a comprehensive evaluation, rating, and selection process, SCF assessed nine centers and selected four to receive solar-PV systems. The systems will be operational during non-emergencies and result in cost savings that can be reallocated to assist with the centers’ direct needs such as direct programming, expansion of programs, and/or capacity building. With the support of SSDI and Lions Den Solar, SCF will train response personnel at each center on how to activate each system after the storm and ensure durability of the system to withstand hurricane force winds.
SCF also aims to increase job opportunities on the island by creating a training program to support the installation at these facilities. SCF will incorporate instruction on core construction, solar installation and guidance from certified National Center for Construction Education & Research (NCCER) trainers to ensure that the participants receive on-the-job training that they can use to obtain employment. The program will be broken down into four cohorts and train a total of 40 participants who will receive national certification from NCCER at the end of the program.
SCF will provide the funding for the solar systems and will continue to fundraise for the project with the goal of providing every community with a solar-PV system and train additional youth. SSDI and Lions Den Solar will provide the technical support needed by SCF to effectively plan, develop, and implement this program. The VI Workforce Investment Board will provide significant funding for the workforce development component.
January - March 2019 (1st Center): Pilot house system site visit / system installation planning; complete an energy use efficiency walk-thru; complete installation at 1st Center; conduct testing and commissioning of pilot systems; program evaluation and assessment; on-the-job training for 1st cohort.
April - June 2019 (2nd Center): Pilot house system site visit / system installation planning; complete an energy use efficiency walk-thru; complete installation at 2nd Center; conduct testing and commissioning of pilot systems; program evaluation and assessment; on-the-job training for 2nd cohort.
July - September 2019 (3rd Center): Pilot house system site visit / system installation planning; complete an energy use efficiency walk-thru; complete installation at 3rd Center; conduct testing and commissioning of pilot systems; program evaluation and assessment; on-the-job training for 3rd cohort.
October - December 2019 (4th Center): Pilot house system site visit / system installation planning; complete an energy use efficiency walk-thru; complete installation at 4th Center; conduct testing and commissioning of pilot systems; program evaluation and assessment; on-the-job training for 4th cohort.
The landfall of Hurricane Maria on St. Croix in 2017 exposed the critical need for energy independence in isolated neighborhoods. After hurricanes, citizens are not allowed to leave their community for 48-72 hours. The curfew is needed to evaluate roads and buildings, but it limits access to resources during a critical time. Furthermore, after Hurricane Maria, many residents were without transportation and restricted to their neighborhood due to debris blocking roadways. There were only a few distribution centers available to provide for the necessities of the community and many residents could not travel to those locations. This burden presented an even more severe impact on the elderly.
Less than 100 days after the Hurricane, St. Croix Foundation (SCF) conducted The Individual and Household Needs Assessments to understand immediate needs after the storm, island-wide. One question asked was “What utilities do you currently NOT have access to in your home that you did have access to in your home before the storms?”. The responses evidenced the dire situation on the island: no water - 53.8%; no internet - 42.5%; no electricity - 44.2%; no landline - 51.1%; and no cellphone - 69.9%. Establishing a hub in some of the most underserved communities that can be activated moments after the storm to give residents access to these critical utilities could reduce the chance of life threatening conditions and make these communities more resilient.
Furthermore, youth make up a large portion of the U.S. Virgin Islands (VI) and are among the most vulnerable. In July 2017, the unemployment rate in the VI was 10% as compared to the US average of 4.3%. (VI Dept. of Labor). Between 2007 and July 2017, the unemployment rate on St. Croix spiked from 7.1% to 11.3%, with a high of 17.8% in 2013 (VI Bureau of Economic Research, 2014). Youth entering the workforce in the VI are being met with limited opportunities and resources. Now, after the hurricanes, there was is need for development in solar, and general construction on the island creating possible opportunities for skilled youth to enter the workforce.
While the Virgin Islands Workforce Investment Board is providing a significant portion of the funding for the workforce development component, SCF is seeking additional funds or donated PV equipment to expand the project so that every neighborhood will have a working community center with a solar-PV system.
SCF recognizes and understands the long-term phases of hurricane recovery efforts and the importance of continuing to focus attention and resources on equity and sustainability. SCF can offer assistance to other organizations who are trying to develop and implement programs that focus on equity and sustainability as the focus for rebuilding after any disaster.