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Community Activists Demand Major Changes to Territory's Energy Policy

Jan. 15, 2008 — A group of St. Croix civic activists representing V.I. utility customers and the community organization Hispanos Unidos issued a call to arms Tuesday, asking the public to peacefully protest for serious, prompt action on high energy costs.
A press conference at Junie's Restaurant in Peter's Rest included people well known for their civic involvement on St. Croix: Nereida Rivera-O'Reilly, Darryl Miller, Gonzalo Rivera, Sammuel Sanes and George Flores. Each spoke briefly of the urgency they feel the government should give to a serious energy policy and immediate, practical action. Then they encouraged residents to come and picket the Legislature in Frederiksted from 8 a.m. to noon Thursday and WAPA from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday.
Their demands can be summarized as paying government utility bills; giving the public an audit of WAPA's financial condition; prompt, real movement toward alternatives to expensive oil-based power generation; government-financed rate relief; and a tight focus on making WAPA run more efficiently and cost-effectively.
"An audit would, I think, restore the faith of the ratepayers, if it is given to the public," Rivera-O'Reilly said. "Also, regular meter reading, we think, is essential. I think people would have more faith in the authority if they felt they were billed for what they were actually consuming."
Flores said the activists support two bills before the Legislature.
"One is to freeze the LEAC for one year while we study it; the other is intended to give WAPA $26.5 million to deal with the problems they have with maintenance and to do something to alleviate the cost of buying fuel," he said. The levelized energy-adjustment clause (LEAC) is the charge on WAPA customer bills for the cost of fuel oil burned to generate electricity.
While there were several specific demands and suggestions, some of the speakers also emphasized they are flexible about what may be done — but principally want serious, focused action.
"I don't have all the answers to this," Rivera said. The decisionmakers have to find it, but the point is, they have to find a solution. … We encourage them to make the wisest decision as quickly as possible."
Miller read a statement on behalf of the group outlining their purpose and demands, saying ratepayers are fed up with high energy costs, service problems and sporadic power outages at WAPA. The government should "take immediate and visible action and establish a timeline of implementation and completion," to the items in the group's list, he said.
They ask the V.I. Government, commissions and agencies and the Legislature to:
— Modernize the Water and Power Authority, its water/electrical energy production and distribution and other assets, to drastically improve the overall efficiency of water/electrical systems;
— Establish a team of competent individuals to recover, analyze and implement existing studies; these studies have been completed (by both PSC and WAPA) with taxpayers' money, clearly expressing solutions and corrective measures to the territory's current energy crisis;
— Establish an Energy Management Division with a robust energy-management system and a comprehensive energy database;
— Develop a comprehensive and dynamic energy strategy/plan establishing how energy from 2008 and in the future will be purchased, consumed and managed in the U.S. Virgin Islands;
— Manage WAPA's electrical and water production and distribution by proving meter-reading efficiencies and implementing automatic meter-reading technology and data collection;
— manage outage response by implementing outage-detection technologies to reduce the frequency of outages, improve response and restore times for outages;
— Subsidize WAPA for the express purpose of eliminating the substantial 22.3-percent rate increase. (Editor's note: This number is the average bill increase for a ratepayer using exactly 500 kilowatts per month. The LEAC increased 33 percent.)
— Once and for all, negotiate the RFP to secure alternative-energy solutions, in accordance with the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act — no more stalled talks;
— Allocate money that would liquidate outstanding government WAPA bills, set clearly defined and stable energy budgets and mandate that government agencies pay their utility bills annually;
— Develop investment strategies and planning that would convert government buildings into "green buildings" that utilize solar technology;
— Place technologically and energy-competent people on the boards of WAPA and the Public Services Commission;
— Establish and mitigate safe, reliable efficient and affordable services and rates for the ratepayers of the U.S. Virgin Islands to reduce consumption and cost; and
— Produce a comprehensive audit of WAPA with published results.
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