Eighteen years of watching life and politics on St Croix tends to develop a mixture of cynicism and a good sense of humor.
For those unfortunate individuals who use logic and common sense to solve problems, everyday living can be hard down here. Too much head shaking and rolling your eyes has led to an early departure for many potential residents and business owners, and in Continental US I have seen them refer to us as their Third World appendix.
The Island mentality allows problems to go unsolved year after year, and so we live on with our schools, sewers, roads, high crime and a deep-rooted corruption in government:
And look! We are still here. We are getting by after all, and maybe next time we will get a better Governor and better Senators. (That said, deep down nobody really expects much change. As long as life doesn't get worse…)
But something is about to happen that will affect All of us in The Virgin Islands, and since I do not hear anybody else scream bloody murder, I'll do my best to lay it out without drowning in details.
Back in 2001 my wife and I (Mitchell Larsen Studio) were approved for EDC benefits.
The WAPA- Southern deal disaster and 9/11 convinced us that it was too risky. A power hungry production like ours cannot rely on a utility that uses the most expensive fuel in the world. The writing was on the wall already back then.
So we said no thanks, and thus denied our community a handful of new jobs.
Today, of course, the situation is many times worse.
Let me illustrate this:
Many states offer incentives to businesses incl. tax breaks, cheap loans, educated work force, infrastructure etc., but over the past few years the price and reliability of energy has moved up near the top on the check list that determines where a business wants to build.
Let us say you are a medium sized business and your choice is between WAPA on St Croix or Cuivre River Electrical Cooperative (CREC) near St.Louis. Both utilities are about the same size.
WAPA 1KW 32 cents 50,000KW/month one year $190,000.
CREC 1KW 4.2cents. 50,000KW/month one year $ 25,000.
CREC last year paid out $3mill to its costumers. Average check was $34.
CREC is buying a new clean coal boiler unit. Not because they need it, but to have as a spare.
Later this year CREC will hook up to Bluegrass Ridge, a Missouri state owned wind farm projected to produce 50 megawatt, enough to supply up to 50,000 homes. CREC has agreed to buy all of the power generated by Bluegrass Ridge for the next 20 years.
WAPA: Unreliable, fluctuating voltage, higher rates for commercial customers, and has refused any association with alternative energy providers. And no end is in sight for rate hikes.
And we haven't come to the really bad part yet!
The really bad part!
Right now hardly a day goes by that I don't get a call or a visit from someone who hopes I can help them to lower or eliminate their utility bill. Everybody knows we have the only privately owned off -grid house on St Croix, and a lot of people have visited us back when we had open house Sundays or their kid's class had an educational tour of our home. They know how we have begged WAPA to take our surplus energy (for free) and how we have banged our heads against a wall of ignorance and stupidity for 8 straight years.
I have been looking high and low for a gubernatorial candidate who has the guts to do what has to be done, I even went to a town hall meeting where two of our hopefuls clearly wanted to proceed to other issues when the future of WAPA came up.
WAPA is a hot potato in an election year, best leave it alone.
So there you are! Nobody wants to talk about what will happen not if, but when crude reaches $100 a barrel.
So what will happen??
I have a good idea myself, but I also put that question to two people who have nice positions in the VI government.
All three of us came up with almost the same answer:
1) Somewhere between 4-8% of WAPA's customers will not be able to pay their bills. They are the people who are already in trouble financially. They live at or below poverty level. They are also the worst educated part of the population, and the crime rate amongst them is a good deal higher than average.
2) Unless a miracle happens WAPA will have to turn off the power.
3) Exactly what happens next is anybody's guess, but all three of us agree that having more than a thousand households sitting in the dark spells major trouble. Whole neighborhoods will be affected.
Are they going to have candle light dinners every night and sit home not watching TV? We don= t think so!
We unanimously predict a situation that very easily could get out of control.
We think it is likely that not only will crime skyrocket, but there will be riots.
Once we get to this point we all know what will happen next:
Yes, the stateside media is somewhat preoccupied with all kinds of wars at the moment, but they will surely clear a little space when it comes to riots on St. Croix, and as we saw it after Fountain Valley and Hugo: Tax payer exodus! Tourists stay away, State of emergency? Marshall Law? Take your pick.
Did I mention that WAPA also would loose a thousand customers??
Even if you do not agree with the time line of this scenario, you must admit that sooner or later we will reach a critical mass.
The only person that can spearhead an effort to prevent it is the Governor.
And since Charles Useless Turnbull is not likely to get out of hibernation, the task will fall on the shoulders of our next governor. Does he have the guts to rock the boat?
It is up to him to decide weather he should grab WAPA by the balls during the election campaign (a winner in my opinion) or wait until later or ignore the problem for now. The latter being the preferred modus operandi in the Virgin Islands.
And so what has to be done??
I do not have a silver bullet. Nobody has ever dared to fiddle with the monster in the room: this 800-pound gorilla called WAPA.
It is a complex problem not made easier by the big question:
Do we hurt a few or do we all suffer together?
We cannot expect to ever get as good a deal as the one we got from Southern, but one thing remains certain: we got to get off fuel oil! And we got to separate WAPA and the Government. And we got to let anybody who produces alternative energy into the equation.
A privately owned wind park is something I would like to sink my teeth into. It is easier than you think.
An alternative energy department and workshop at UVI is a given. What better way to combine science and economy?
Ultimately I would like to see us be able to offer free power to environmentally friendly businesses that want to establish themselves on these Islands.
The sun is here, the wind is here. For free!
Unfortunately so is ignorance and stupidity.
Finally let me express outrage over the behavior of WAPA's board of directors!
If I was Attorney General (and not a puppet of Gov. House), I would look into charges of criminal neglect. The arrogance is mind-boggling. How can these people sleep at night knowing what they are doing – or rather not doing?
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