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Senate Legislates WAPA Generator Efficiency Levels

The V.I. Legislature voted to set mandatory specific Btu heat rates for V.I. Water and Power Authority generators once they are converted to alternative fuels, as part of a wide-ranging omnibus bill it approved in session Tuesday.

In 2012, the Legislature increased the territorial fuel tax by seven cents a gallon and devoted that increase to purchase new, more efficient power generating units in both districts and help WAPA secure bond financing.

Tuesday, the Legislature voted to amend that law to allow WAPA to also use the funding to help with its ongoing conversion to less costly liquified natural gas and liquified petroleum gas, but mandates that the newly modified generators operate at a heat rate of 10,000 Btu or better.

"Right now now WAPA cannot touch (the funds) but with this they can invest it. But WAPA will have to start operating units at 10,000 Btu per kilowatt hour," said Sen. Craig Barshinger.

(Btu stands for British thermal unit, the heat required to raise the temperature of a pound of water one degree Fahrenheit.)

WAPA officials have discussed this issue with the appointed WAPA governing board and the V.I. Public Services Commission, both of which have oversight over WAPA activities.

WAPA officials said in a statement in January that the "implication that the authority system can be operated at heat rates as low as 9,500 to 10,000 Btu per kWh or lower is not accurate and is misleading."

According to WAPA, those optimistic projections assume brand new generators, perfect temperatures and conditions and a perfect, ideally situated and laid-out electric grid. But the generators are old, the system is split into two unconnected grids and the placement of the generators is constrained, limiting the efficiency of the system, according to the utility.

The senate did not take testimony on the technical considerations affecting utility generator turbine heat efficiency rates.

Another section of the bill aims to increase government revenues by directing the Internal Revenue Bureau to devote two enforcement agents to collecting room occupancy tax from owners of private residences who rent to overnight and weekly visitors. It also sets a penalty for defrauding IRB of this tax of as much as $10,000 fine and 30 days in jail.

"Our research shows there is at the very least $20 million on the table," said Sen. Janette Millin Young.

"A very conservative estimate is $20 million," Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone also said.

For context, room occupancy tax receipts for all hotels, inns and villas in the territory totaled $20 million in FY 2013, according to the V.I. Government’s FY 2014 budget submission in June.

Claudette Watson-Anderson testified in August and again in October that she did not believe there were millions of dollars to be collected, but that collection could be improved and some money retrieved. Responding to a question from Sen. Craig Barshinger, Watson-Anderson said "the senator is under the impression that villa owners do not pay hotel taxes and that is patently untrue." Barshinger responded that he never said they paid no taxes, "just a huge portion is missing." "We think it is about $10 million," Barshinger said in October.

In August, she testified that generally "property managers are really good about submitting" their tax information. However she also said that resources for enforcement are limited.

Another section of the bill adds airports, seaports and hospitals to a list of types of small power-producing facilities. It would enable the V.I. Public Services Commission to direct utilities to purchase excess power produced by those facilities, as well as power produced at educational facilities, as existing law allows.

The omnibus bill also:

• Increases the budget for the Office of the Governor by $546,000, from $7.7 million to $8.3 million;

• Explicitly includes magistrates and Supreme Court Justices in Government Employee Retirement System statutes;

• Allows agencies overseeing federal Community Development Block Grants to allocate the grant funds without Legislative approval, which senators said would help agencies use the money more flexibly and reduce the risk of sending any funding back;

• Establishes that 911 call center operators are to receive night differential pay;

• Appropriates $150,000 from the General Fund for cultural and historical activities;

• Increases the V.I. Centennial Commission, responsible for planning the 2017 commemoration of Transfer Day, from five to 12 members, and lays out a complex system of rules for how many residents of each island, who appoints different members, and what private clubs must be represented on the volunteer commission;

• Caps personal injury and property damage judgments against the V.I. Waste Management Authority at $75,000;

• Establishes a separate, enhanced penalty for assaulting any employee of the Department o Education in the lawful discharge of the employee’s duties; and

• Appropriates $150,000 to the Public Finance Authority for a feasibility study to assess the need for and the readiness of the community to construct a multipurpose sports complex on St. Thomas;

An amendment from Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson allows the Youth Advisory Committee to meet before it has all members appointed, so long as there is a quorum.

Voting to approve the bill as amended were: Barshinger, Malone, Young, Sens. Donald Cole, Kenneth Gittens, Clifford Graham, Myron Jackson, Clarence Payne and Sammuel Sanes. Nelson and Sen. Tregenza Roach voted no. Absent were Sens. Judi Buckley, Diane Capehart, Alicia "Chucky" Hansen and Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly.

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