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Protest at WAPA Targets Electric Rates, Energy Policy

Jan. 19, 2008 — Dozens of St. Croix residents hit the streets by the V.I. Water and Power Authority's Sunny Isle offices Saturday morning to demand decisive government action to relieve the territory's high electricity rates.
Latin music pumped from speakers in the beds of pickup trucks and protesters waved colorful picket signs emblazoned with questions, slogans and statements. Among them:
— "Small Businesses are closing down due to WAPA's rates. Governor and Senators act now or resign,"
— "Christopher Columbus came and raped the V.I. WAPA is raping us now,"
— "My bill went up $60. WAPA must be mad, I know I am."
The protest was organized earlier this week by a group of St. Croix civic activists representing V.I. utility customers and the community organization Hispanos Unidos (See: "Community Activists Demand Major Changes to Territory's Energy Policy.")
"Why should we pay to cover the slack from the government not paying its bills?" St. Croix teacher Annette Gereau said when asked why she was picketing. "It upsets me more people are not protesting. The price of oil is one thing, maybe out of WAPA's control, but there are too many discrepancies and overcharges on bills."
There was criticism of WAPA but many of the protesters said they there to push for solutions more than to criticize.
"This is a case where everybody should get together," said Dion Lorenzo, a St. Croix building contractor. "Not just a few people but the whole community. The Public Services Commission, WAPA, the governor and Senate should all get together and cooperate on a solution. With Hovensa in our backyard, we should get some sort of special treatment from them."
It's not just people's WAPA bills that are affected by the high utility rates, Lorenzo said.
"Talk to the supermarket owners; their bills are through the roof and they have to pass it on. The cost of everything is pushed up. I'm not protesting just against WAPA exactly, but to push for everybody to get together and find real solutions now," he said.
Establishing some new power generation was high on the list for many. Their demands are along the lines of a recent WAPA request for proposal asking companies to submit bids and proposals for 20 megawatts of electricity production.
"The LEAC has to go away," said Wayne "Bully" Petersen of St. Croix. The LEAC or Levelized Energy Adjustment Clause is a fuel cost surcharge currently adding 25.5 cents per kilowatt hour to residential rates.
"We need to find a solution," he said. "We should build a state of the art generating facility on the South Shore and scrap the old, rusty, obsolete plant in Richmond. With solar, wind or sea power, we can put an end to this problem."
Rev. David Albaran held a sign saying "Wall Street is watching." The sharp rise in territorial energy rates may affect our bond rating, costing the territory dearly in the long run, he said.
WAPA's response?
"We do understand what the issues are, we truly do," WAPA spokeswoman Cassandra Dunn told the Source Saturday.
"We are acutely aware of the issues facing our customers and we are doing everything we can in our plans and actions in an attempt to alleviate some of the concerns our customers have expressed. We are all rate-payers too and we feel it from the top all the way down too," she said.
Dunn pointed out the ongoing construction of an energy-saving waste heat recovery boiler on St. Croix, WAPA's recent RFP for alternative production, ongoing work to reduce line losses and demand-side conservation programs such as giving out super-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs.
"We are burning less fuel now than four years ago and producing more electricity, believe it or not," she said. "The increase in the price of fuel has increased costs, but the fact is we have increased efficiency. … We do have a new director now too and under his direction we will be moving to address all these issues."
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