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Questions Remain About Impact of Economic Stimulus Act

Aug. 28, 2005 – "This is great. It will get everything out in the open, clarify the issues," Tom Bolt, legal representative for Antilles Energy Cooperative, recently said about Senate plans to discuss an amendment to the Emergency Job Creation and Economic Stimulus Act of 2005.
Clarity has been missing from discussion of this controversial bill mandating that the Public Services Commission and the V.I. Water and Power Authority choose a certified small power provider on St. Croix by Sept. 30 to supplement WAPA's exclusively fuel-generated power. (See "New Legislation Forces WAPA and PSC to Cooperate".)
A draft of an amendment to be discussed at the Committee of the Whole meeting this Wednesday was circulated last week and raised the ire of the bill's sponsor, Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste – so much that he threatened to leave the majority coalition. The amendment, sponsored by fellow majority members Senate President Lorraine Berry and Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson, would drop the requirement of the power producer to commit to creating 400 jobs and raise the required investment from $15 million to $20 million.
Questions have been raised about how the 400 jobs could be created, because according to WAPA Executive Director Alberto Bruno-Vega, WAPA only employs 100 people total in its power-generating plants on St. Thomas and St. Croix, with 50 employees at each plant.
Jn Baptiste said, not only does the amendment gut the intention of his bill, but it shows a misunderstanding of it. He said the bill does not say all the jobs have to be created in the power plant, but that the firm that commits to supplying the power could also commit to another enterprise, "such as a cement-producing plant" on St. Croix.
Also, as the price of oil continues to rise, concern has been expressed that the bill does not address the need for the Virgin Islands to get away from its dependency on oil.
Jn Baptiste said that many people may be confused by the preamble of his bill. He said the preamble just states certain present conditions. "It is not what is being enacted," Jn Baptiste said.
The amendment inserts the words "renewable energy" in sections of the preamble. Jn Baptiste said his bill in no way excluded renewable energy.
The meeting, originally scheduled for Wednesday at 10 a.m. in the Legislative Conference Room in St. Croix, has been rescheduled for 1 p.m.
According to a memo from Berry's office, the meeting will answer questions, such as: How will the act impact WAPA’s current employees? Can this act potentially trigger a reduction in force at WAPA? How will any layoffs impact the GERS? What is the act's impact on the ability of all certified small energy providers to competitively bid on providing WAPA with alternative sources of energy? What is the impact of the act on WAPA’s ability to reduce utility rates? Can the act be amended to separate the issue of job creation and energy generation and still accomplish the same result?
During Wednesday's meeting, Hovensa Vice President Alex Moorhead will also be asked about the price outlook for crude oil through the end of this year and whether alternative power suppliers would receive the same discount rate WAPA does.
In the memo Berry said, "It is extremely important that we engage in this open public discussion in order to further understand the impact of this act on all stakeholders. We support any effort to bring jobs to St. Croix, and we will do all that we must to fast-track economic opportunities for our people. We cannot, however, purport to create jobs in one breath, and create economic hardships for others in other industries. The ratepayers must also be guaranteed lower energy rates as clearly expressed in the act."
The meeting could be a marathon session as everyone involved in the issue has been invited to testify.
They include Bruno-Vega; Moorhead; Valencio Jackson, Public Services Commission chairman; Labor Commissioner Cecil Benjamin; economist Simon Jones-Hendrickson, University of the Virgin Islands; Lauritz Mills, director of the Bureau of Economic Research; Hubert Turnbull, president of WAPA Employees' Association; Michael Shay of Praxis Consulting Group; and Darryl E. Miller, chairperson, St. Croix Alliance to Protect Utility Ratepayers.
Representatives for all the certified alternative power producers have also been invited. They are Adriane Dudley, Carib Waste Technologies; Myron Allick, St. Croix Renaissance Group; George Wronge, president, Caribbean Energy Resources Corporation; Norman Kotraba, chief operating officer, Caribbean Energy Resources; and Frank Wilbourne III, president, Antilles Energy Cooperative.
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