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WAPA Trying to Move Beyond Oil, Director Tells Rotarians

Aug. 14, 2008 — Hugo Hodge, executive director of the V.I. Water and Power Authority, told the Rotary Club of St. Croix on Thursday he wasn't going to talk about the past, but spoke instead about immediate financial plans and how WAPA is trying to reduce its dependency on oil.
One Rotarian, however, said she thinks the past is important.
"I think the government owing so much to WAPA should never have gone on so long," Rotarian Sally Stewart said during the meeting at Gertrude's Restaurant. "Whether or not he wants to talk about the past, we're still paying for it."
The immediate financial problem is that WAPA owes Hovensa almost $40 million, with $19 million past due Thursday, Hodge said. On Friday WAPA will have $22 million past due, and that amount is growing.
"This is a wakeup call for all of us," Jim Oliver said. "The government has to re-prioritize the resources, which came from the people of the Virgin Islands, for our needs."
The government owes $6 million for the Juan F. Luis Hospital and $4 million for Schneider Regional Medical Center, Hodge said. It also owes $6 million for street lighting.
"It has never been an option to turn off the power at the hospitals," Hodge said. "But I would turn off the electric at my father's house if he didn't pay his bill."
An audience member suggested turning off the power at the legislature to get them to move faster on things.
Gov. John deJongh Jr. has set aside funds for what the government already owes, and the Senate is meeting as a whole Wednesday to allocate funds, Hodge said.
"We're going to pull through this current financial situation," he said. "We are not going to do rotating outages."
He added, "We are working with the Senate, counting on current revenues and looking at all options."
David Beck characterized the problem as a combination of poor planning and unforeseeable circumstances.
"The hole seems to get deeper and deeper," he said$. "I think there has been a lack of planning and foresight, but who knew oil would go so high?"
Most Caribbean nations have generated energy with oil-burning turbines, Hodge told the Rotarians. He did not comment on the islands that have begun to employ other sources of energy.
"The way we generate electricity is the most inefficient and expensive way to produce power by the nature of the process," Hodge said. The goal for WAPA is to end its dependency on oil, he said.
Hodge also discussed the requests for proposals (RFP) that went out to find a company that will sign a 20-year agreement to sell the territory power at a rate less than WAPA's projected costs of using oil. The RFP went out in December 2007, and there were more than 100 hits from renewable and non-fossil-fuel energy providers. WAPA has narrowed the list of potential providers down to six.
Some of those proposals are for waste-to-energy and wind and solar plants, Hodge said. He will travel to Washington, D.C., next week to negotiate with one of the providers.
V.I. residents are paying six times the rates for electricity that many stateside residents pay, according to the V.I. Energy Office. A mainland resident with a $150 electric bill would pay $900 in the territory. Rates in Ohio and Tennessee are only 8 and 7 cents per kilowatt hour, respectively. V.I. residents pay 42 cents per kilowatt hour.
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