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Legal Battle Between WAPA and PSC Gets Expedited

Dec. 26, 2004 – Alberto Bruno-Vega, executive director of the Water and Power Authority, said last week he believes a date with Territorial Court Judge Maria M. Cabret on Feb. 16 will end the ongoing battle between WAPA and the Public Services Commission.
He said the battle is basically a "power struggle" with the PSC board trying to usurp power from WAPA's governing board.
However, a press release from the PSC, earlier in the week depicted the battle in a different light.
It said, "The Public Services Commission has been seeking to work with WAPA to secure more efficient and less costly alternatives for the generation of electricity and water for several years. Unfortunately, WAPA has chosen to fight and delay while the ratepayers of the Virgin Islands, and its economy continue to suffer. The Virgin Islands has one of, if not the highest, electric rates in the United States. There is no need for WAPA to extract more than $100 million per year in fuel costs alone from the residents, businesses and government of the Virgin Islands – imagine what could be done in this economy if even one-third of that money was still in the hands of residents and businesses to reinvest in our community and economy."
The release then listed six legal actions filed against the commission by WAPA since 2002.
Almost all the recent legal filings have been the result of the PSC effort to get WAPA to negotiate with alternative power firms the PSC has certified, instead of going through the bid process. However, one suit in April 2003 concerned a commission order that WAPA use money earned from a rate hike for capital improvements.
Bruno-Vega said, "We have been forced by the commission to appeal to the courts."
He said WAPA had been denied due process because PSC hearings concerning orders were held in a "tyrannical manner" and WAPA was not allowed to present evidence or witnesses.
The last time the two parties met in court was on Dec. 13. The two parties have a different perspective on what happened then. The PSC release said, "The court lifted the stay and denied WAPA's request to suspend the commission's orders."
Bruno-Vega said the court saw the importance of the case and put it in an expedited appeal process — therefore the Feb. 16 date. He added this will force WAPA to again extend its deadline for accepting bid proposals from companies wishing to supply WAPA with power.
Bruno-Vega has argued that the bid process is a more effective and more "transparent" method of deciding on an alternative energy supplier. A contract with an alternative energy supplier would be a long-term one and could be in an amount exceeding a 100 million dollars.
The PSC release also takes WAPA to task for not supplying information the commission needs. The release stated, " The commission sincerely desires WAPA's cooperation in the timely completion of studies which will permit an informed decision as to whether any of WAPA's current electrical and water generation capacity should be replaced with more cost efficient technologies, and whether those replacements should be funded by WAPA or provided by private parties. The commission will continue to fulfill its obligation to ensure that the Virgin Islands has reliable utility services at just and reasonable rates."
Bruno-Vega said, "Their consultant has made a million dollars doing nothing but asking questions. My staff has been overwhelmed."
He added that since the court had lifted the stay on the orders from the commission to WAPA, WAPA was trying to comply with all the requests.
The PSC press release concludes by saying that while WAPA continues to refuse to cooperate with the commission it also continues to ask for rate hikes.
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