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Thursday, December 2, 2021
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WAPA Confused by PSC Inaction

Julio Rhymer, executive director of the V.I. Water and Power Authority, told the board of directors Thursday he was left “confused” by the Public Services Commission’s inaction Wednesday on WAPA’s requested rate increase, instead referring the matter to a hearing examiner.

“Basically, they denied it,” he said.

If no action is taken in 30 days, the request is considered denied. If PSC denies the request for an increase in the base rate or the LEAC (Levelized Energy Adjustment Clause) by March 1, the matter will go to court, Rhymer told the board.

In January, the PSC approved a base rate hike and then rescinded it two weeks later after WAPA said it needed more than three days to review items included in the rate agreement.

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The PSC decision to rescind the increase will hurt WAPA’s ability to produce reliable power, Rhymer said at the time. Some of the funding was to lease two additional generating units to increase reliability and to allow another unit to be overhauled.

The increase would raise base rates by about 13 percent for consumption of more than 250-kilowatt hours, about $16 a month. However, the first 250 kilowatt hours of usage would be subject to a $7 increase from the transfer of LEAC charges to liquid propane gas-related charges to cover maintenance and infrastructure fees, according to Rhymer. The increase would raise more than $14 million for WAPA annually. WAPA originally requested an increase that would raise over $40 million a year.

Then after a Jan. 31 meeting, WAPA announced it filed a motion with PSC for reconsideration and was implementing the increase anyway, effective Feb.1, because PSC did not give10 days notice, required by law, of its decision to rescind.

Also on Jan. 31, the PSC distributed a press release in which Donald “Ducks” Cole, PSC executive director, said the decision was to make WAPA more accountable.

“The core of the current dispute is that WAPA has not been accountable for the way it has spent the monies that it receives from ratepayers and has clearly sought to continue avoiding accountability,” Cole said.

At Wednesday’s PSC hearing, the commissioners said they voted to refer the matter back to the hearing examiner to answer questions about PSC’s jurisdiction, eliminate WAPA’s concerns over the lack of an evidentiary hearing and start the process all over again.

During Thursday’s WAPA meeting, the board approved reengineering the power load centers of Units 10 and 11 at the Estate Richmond Power Plant with a three-month time extension. Because Unit 10 has been recommended for decommissioning in five years, the decision was not to upgrade the No. 10 load center. The final cost of $479, 743 to upgrade the load center technology that manages power requirements is a savings of $260,000 by changing the original scope of work to exclude Unit 10. Work is scheduled to be completed by May 31 but installation is not included in the original price.

Also during his report to the board, Rhymer talked about three 7-megawatt units being acquired for St. Thomas that should arrive by the end of the year. With those units and a new Unit 26, St. Thomas will be run almost 100 percent on propane.

He also reported that all St. Thomas customers have access to the Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) for communication between WAPA and consumers. The program is 80 percent complete on St. Croix.

Attending the meeting were Chairwoman Elizabeth Armstrong, Gerald Groner, Noel Loftus, Juanita Young, Commissioner of Licensing and Consumer Affairs Devin Carrington and Public Works Commissioner Gustav James.

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