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PSC Approves WAPA Plan to Bury Power Lines, Replace Transformers

Aug. 22, 2007 — V.I. Water and Power Authority officials received authorization Wednesday to tap into an $8.7 million pool of money needed to bury utility lines in downtown St. Thomas and replace transformers at the Randolph Harley power plant.
During a Public Services Commission (PSC) board meeting, WAPA officials said the money, which will come from the commission's self-insurance reserve fund, has been earmarked for the utility's use during emergencies such as hurricanes or other natural disasters.
About $408,000 will be used by the authority as the matching contribution for a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant needed for putting electric lines underground in Charlotte Amalie. With hurricane season in full swing, burying the lines is a "prudent investment," said Georgetown Consultants principal Larry Gawlick, the PSC's advisor on WAPA-related matters.
FEMA would kick in about $1.6 million for the project, which will stretch from the downtown post office to the Greenhouse Bar and Restaurant and surrounding side alleys.
"We have been working with property owners in the area, and we've gotten to the point where they have agreed to contribute their fair share," said Gregory Rhymer, WAPA director of systems planning and environmental affairs. "So it's a coordinated effort. But we have to act on these funds soon, or they will go to someone else."
PSC members unanimously approved the authority's request, but were a bit more hesitant when it came to letting WAPA use another $1.5 million from the fund to replace a transformer responsible for a district-wide power outage last month.
During a recent WAPA board meeting, officials said that two new transformers had already been ordered, but would take another 12 months to arrive and be fully installed. In the meantime, PSC members requested that the authority come up with a temporary solution for replacing the transformer, which had been supplying power to the district via a backup unit.
On Wednesday, WAPA representatives said the backup unit is also in "delicate condition," which would leave the authority "exposed" if any additional damage occurs. Consequently, the $1.5 million is needed to cover the cost of purchasing, shipping and installing two used transformers supplied by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA).
Any money taken from the self-insurance reserve fund would go toward reimbursing WAPA for money already used to cover the expenses, officials said.
Once the used transformers are installed, the two additional units on order will be used to build a new substation at the Harley power plant, which would replace the current "antiquated" system, improve reliability and cut down on power outages, Rhymer explained.
Though PSC officials said they are in favor of granting WAPA's funding request, they also required that the authority give a breakdown of the costs soon after the transformers come back online.
In addition to the downed transformer, several other units at the Harley power plant have recently been out of commission, which resulted in a series of power outages last week in the St. Thomas-St. John district, said Glenn Rothgeb, WAPA’s chief operating officer. While the authority has since been able to raise its peak load capacity, WAPA's dwindling finances have made it difficult to continue to budget for repairs and new equipment, Rothgeb explained.
Throughout the meeting, WAPA officials also discussed plans in the works to reduce line losses on both the electric and water sides, conduct a feasibility study on the interconnection of electric systems on St. Thomas and St. Croix, and revise a condition-assessment study cataloging WAPA's existing resources and outlining new options for power generation and water distribution.
The PSC meeting continues Thursday at 9 a.m., with WAPA's request for new levelized energy adjustment clause (LEAC) rates for July through December 2007. Representatives from the Waste Management Authority are also expected to appear to discuss the implementation of an environmental user fee.
Present during Wednesday's meeting were PSC board members Joseph Boschulte, Donald "Ducks" Cole, Verne C. David, M. Thomas Jackson, Basil Ottley Jr., Alecia Wells and Raymond Williams.
Board member Siri Hamad was absent.
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