Aug. 19, 2002 – While the absence of funding for street lighting and the presence of an unwanted desalination barge continue to burden the Water and Power Authority, an outside company presented something new for the WAPA board to think about at its monthly meeting Friday on St. Croix.
The Baltimore-based company, Sea Solar Power International, wants the Virgin Islands to become the site of its first ocean thermal energy conversion plant, which its president, Robert J. Nicholson III, told the board could become a worldwide model.
Glenn Rothgeb, WAPA acting executive director, said Monday that the utility produces "excess energy" now and is not in need of an additional supply. This same point was made last year when the WAPA board rejected the idea of paying Caribe Waste Technologies for electric power that would be a byproduct of its proposed waste-processing system for the territory.
However, should Sea Solar become certified, as CWT has been, WAPA could be obligated to purchase power from the new company, as it similarly could be from CWT.
"It is a green, environmentally friendly company," Rothgeb said of Sea Solar, "and, if we don't have to make a commitment, I think it would be a very good idea. However, I would like to see a proven track record." He said the company's operation would be diversification of fuel supply.
Sea Solar, like Caribe Waste Technologies, has no current operating plant. The Public Services Commission recently certified CWT, which proposes to build gasification plants in the territory to treat waste, as a small energy producer. WAPA has raised strenuous objections to CWT's plan for more than a year, largely because the utility claims the technology to be utilized is commercially unproven. (See "PSC certifies Caribe Waste as power producer".)
Nicholson told the WAPA board on Friday that his company's goal is to sell a unit to WAPA, but that it would be willing to sell the products alone.
Over the years, Rothgeb said on Monday, WAPA has been approached by many companies wishing to sell power, including wind farm operations. He said Sea Solar's competitor Genotec made a pitch to WAPA several years ago. For more information about Sea Solar, visit the Sea Solar Web site.
WAPA recently petitioned the PSC for permission to add a monthly surcharge of about $1.50 to residential customers' bills that would be used to pay for street lighting. Since the lighting operation was transferred to WAPA from the Public Works Department last December, no government funding has been forthcoming, even though the Legislature appropriated funding.
The Legislature has now appropriated another $500,000 for street lighting in its 2003 Omnibus Bill, which is to be heard at a Rules Committee meeting on Thursday. Rothgeb said he was aware of the appropriation but declined to comment until such time as the utility sees the funds. The PSC is scheduled to hear the surcharge request at its September meeting.
So far, WAPA has gotten no response from the government to its request that the administration take back the desalination barge that the Legislature gave to the utility in the same legislation that transferred the street lighting last December. WAPA wants the barge returned to the federal government, from whence it came. Tied up in Krum Bay now, the barge poses serious liability problems, WAPA officials have said.
In other business before the board on Friday, Rothgeb said the government is falling behind again in utility payments. He said the authority is discussing with Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's chief of staff, Juel H.T. Molloy, the idea of resolving the matter by writing off the utility bills of some departments and agencies against the utility's annual payment to the government in lieu of taxes.
The Housing Authority and the Department of Housing Parks and Recreation owe the most, about $500,000 each, Rothgeb said. He said Molloy will work with WAPA in determining which departments' bills would be written off. He said WAPA's annual payment to the government varies with the utility's net income. In this year's budget, it is in the neighborhood of $850,000, he said.
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