Solar water heater program benefits from federal funds

ST. CROIX - Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Areas Tony Babauta and Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen toured the Career and Technical Education Center's Solar Water Heater Training Program on Friday morning to see first-hand how federal stimulus funds are being spent.

The 14-week program, which was funded through the Virgin Islands Energy Office and the V.I. Department of Labor, is using $225,000 received through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The goal of the program is to offer training to 30 residents deemed by the Labor Department as unemployed, under-employed and economically disadvantaged by preparing them for careers in renewable energy.

The students are trained to assemble four types of solar water heating systems - thermo-siphon, active indirect anti-freeze system with a photovoltaic panel, active direct with a photovoltaic panel and a drain-back system for freezing temperatures. The final phase of the job training program will be to install units for nonprofit organizations in the coming weeks, including the Youth Rehabilitation Center and Flambouyant Gardens for the elderly. Twenty-six students are currently enrolled in the program.

Babauta said stimulus funds are meant to be used to train people to create new jobs in green technology as is the case with the CTEC program.

"This is exactly what the president is talking about," Babauta said. "It's impressive to see that the Virgin Islands have received part of the stimulus effort to be used to train people for a green economy. Taking the first step to reduce carbon emissions and increase the use of green technology is a priority of President [Obama] and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar."

Dean Doctrine, a student participating in the class, said he is trained as an electrician and was referred to the class by the Labor Department. "I wanted to learn and get into green technology," said Doctrine.

Doctrine also said the government is helping to sell the technology by offering rebates, tax incentives and help with low-interest loans. However he also said the government also needs to follow through and help the new certified students get jobs.

Kahlil Simone, another student, said the government should contract for their services. "The program was successful and long overdue," Simone said.

Babauta arrived to the territory this week to tour the three islands. He has also toured the National Park on St. John, gave remarks at the Legislature on St. Thomas, visited one of the new V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency's 911 call centers and will join officials with the National Park Service and other dignitaries for a check presentation ceremony for the Salt River Bay Marine Research and Education Project on Monday.