July 1, 2002 – Over strenuous objections by Water and Power Authority officials, the company proposing to build and operate a new waste-to-energy processing system to handle the territory's trash won the approval of the Public Services Commission on Monday.
By a vote of 6-1, PSC members granted certification for Caribe Waste Technologies Inc. to build three small power production plants, one on St. Thomas and two on St. Croix.
The commission, meeting on St. Thomas, also rejected a motion from WAPA seeking protection from having to purchase power from CWT that will be a byproduct of its chemical treatment of waste. That vote was 5-0, with two members abstaining.
WAPA's motion was dismissed "without prejudice," meaning its concerns could be raised again before the PSC when the parties return to argue whether the proposed plants are suited to deliver natural gas products through interconnected gas lines.
In granting CWT certification, the PSC endorsed the findings of hearing examiner Rosalie Simmonds Ballentine, who said the applicant met the criteria for certification as a small power supplier. The criteria, she said, were having a fixed address, meeting federal guidelines for distances between the proposed energy plants, and meeting the standards for production capacity.
Examiner: Concerns can be raised anew later
Ballentine told the commission there will be time to revisit any concerns regarding CWT when the company presents its applications for interconnectivity to WAPA. Issues raised by WAPA, she said, were valid, "but they are not relevant issues at this stage of the proceedings. It is not a complex proceeding. The complexity point comes when the small power producer seeks to interconnect with the utility."
WAPA's lawyer, Samuel H. Hall Jr., warned the PSC members that by giving CWT the go-ahead they were buying a cat in a bag. "We are pleading that CWT is an entity that owns no waste disposal equipment, does not own any generating equipment, owns no land in the Virgin Islands and has no finances," he said.
Hall also challenged Ballentine's assertion that there had been cases on the U.S. mainland where waste-to-energy plants similarly were certified prior to construction. Because CWT is pitching the use of technologies never seen before in the United States, Hall said, there is no comparison.
"The hearing examiner says there are facilities that have been approved on paper on the U.S. mainland, but the facilities were for conventional technologies, not thermoselect in combination with these particular diesel engines," he said.
But commissioner members told Hall that while they may share some of his concerns, they the law directs them to grant certification to qualified applicants.
"I"m not asking you to violate the law. I'm asking you to exercise the discretions given to you under the law," Hall responded, but to no avail.
Attorney Adriane J. Dudley, representing CWT, said she had heard Hall's arguments over and over for nearly two years and was glad the commission stuck to the fact that her client had met the certification requirements. She also derided WAPA concerns about CWT's ability to produce clean power by burning municipal trash.
"It is utterly ironic that WAPA, which is one of the worst polluters today — which it must be because it uses fossil fuels — is complaining about a system that would reduce [pollution]," she said.
But while consensus among the voting PSC members appeared strong, contention also was apparent at Monday's meeting. One of the two non-voting members from the Legislature, Sen. Emmett Hansen II, said the decision was based on a report by the hearing examiner that was loaded with supposition.
Commissioners acted on the recommendation of the hearing examiner, Hansen said, and, "it's clear the hearing examiner's interpretation is not predicated in the law."
PSC members' trip to Germany rankles colleague
Verne David, the one dissenting commissioner with a vote, criticized the secrecy surrounding a visit by three of his colleagues to a gasification plant in Germany which is reportedly a prototype of the proposed Virgin Islands plants. David asked why the rest of the commissioners were not given a chance to join in on the trip, and why they were not told about it until after the visiting members returned.
PSC chair Desmond Maynard said the matter had been raised at a PSC meeting held on St. Croix prior to the trip, but it was announced as a trip to Japan, where another gasification plant operates. The plans changed, Maynard said, when he learned that the plant in Japan was not comparable because it processes industrial waste. Maynard, an attorney; Jerris Browne, a deputy Police commissioner; and Alric Simmonds, the governor's deputy chief of staff, were the PSC members who made the June 4-11 trip. They did not take any technical experts with them.
Hall asked why the PSC members were given free access to the German municipal waste-to-energy plant while WAPA's engineer in repeated telephone calls could not get his counterpart at the plant to answer his questions. "I have to wonder why they were willing to see you and not willing to see him," the attorney said.
Hansen expressed similar concerns. But the other non-voting PSC member, Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole, assured him he would have a chance to visit the German plant when it was time for the Legislature to conduct its own fact finding with the matter before them.
There also were questions about whether all of CWT's partners and investors were known to the board and whether any of them have stateside or Virgin Islands connections. Ballentine said she did not explore the matter because she did not consider it part of the criteria laid out for determining certification.
After the meeting, Dudley said all of the matters raised over the last two years concerning the gasification plant would get a thorough airing before the Legislature. Meanwhile, she said, she is glad the lengthy process before the PSC ended in her client's favor.
"What this means," Dudley said, "is that we can go out and make a deal with Payne Webber to get financing and go back to the V.I. government, where we are engaged in a contract negotiation to build a facility." Talks with WAPA on the issue of buying power from CWT can go on, she said.
All PSC members were present: voting members Browne, David, Valencio Jackson, Maynard, Luther Renee, Simmonds and Alecia Wells; and non-voting members Cole and Hansen.
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