July 18, 2002 – To address concerns about the effect a proposed electric bill surcharge of some $1.50 a month for street lighting could have on residents with fixed or low incomes, the Water and Power Authority governing board agreed on Thursday to contact the Human Services Department.
Glenn Rothgeb, WAPA acting executive director, said he would request a meeting with Human Services Commissioner Sedonie Halbert to discuss ways the two agencies might work together to encourage the use of Human Services financial assistance options such as the Energy Crisis Assistance Program to reduce the impact of the surcharge on those customers.
On Monday WAPA filed a petition with the Public Services Commission to institute a monthly surcharge of approximately $1.50 on residential electric bills in order to finance the territory's street-lighting program. (See "WAPA asks PSC to OK street-lighting surcharge".)
Legislation enacted last year transferred responsibility for street lighting to the authority from the Public Works Department. The Legislature appropriated $2.8 million to WAPA to cover start-up costs of the work. Gov. Charles W. Turnbull vetoed the appropriation, but the Senate overrode his veto earlier this year. However, WAPA still has yet to see any of the money.
The board also addressed what has been another thorn in WAPA's side — the water desalination barge which it inherited last year in the same legislation that made it responsible for the street lighting. The barge currently is moored at the Krum Bay dock, where it is uninsured and poses liability issues, board members were told.
The board voted to ask the governor to relieve the authority of ownership of the barge, according to a release issued Thursday, and directed its legal counsel to continue efforts to have the vessel returned to the federal government.
The onetime Navy barge, which houses electrical generators as well as two reverse osmosis plants, was donated to the territory in 1998 by the federal General Services Administration. Ownership does not actually pass to the territory until 2003.
The barge has had a lively and somewhat ignominious stay in the Virgin Islands: It was leased last year without public knowledge to David Blyden, brother-in-law of Attorney General Iver Stridiron and president of Jost Van Dyke Water Co., a private firm. After weeks of investigation by the Legislature, it was returned to St. Thomas, where nobody knew what to do with it until the Legislature last December voted to give it to WAPA, which has no use for it.
In other action, Rothgeb reported that work has been completed on the energy portion of an "avoided cost" study by the consulting firm of Stone and Webster to determine the costs WAPA would not incur if it were to purchase power from Caribe Waste Technologies.
Turnbull chose CWT to develop an alternative solid waste-processing system to replace the dumping of the territory's refuse at its two landfills. The Public Services Commission recently certified CWT as a small power producer, which could pave the way for WAPA being required to purchase power from CWT that is a byproduct of its gasification processing system, whether the utility needs it or not.
Additionally, John Christian, WAPA director of system planning, reported on recently completed hazard mitigation projects initiated in the aftermath of Hurricane Marilyn that consisted of taking power lines underground in certain areas of St. Thomas and St. Croix. He said the utility saved 25 to 30 percent of the $13.8 million cost by serving as its own general contractor and utilizing in-house engineering, line, accounting and legal expertise. The Federal Emergency Management Agency funded 90 percent of the project.
The board also approved a $172,858 digital security system for the Richmond power plant on St. Croix and expenditures in connection with the overhaul of the Unit 13 and Unit 18 turbines.
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