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WAPA Expands Scholarship Program

The V.I. Water and Power Authority board voted Thursday to reinstate the Alva C. McFarlane Scholarship program this year and expand it to include industrial, chemical and environmental engineering, and economics.

The scholarship program will award up to $60,000 of financial assistance towards a bachelor’s degree in economics, electronics or civil, mechanical, electrical, computer, industrial, chemical, and environmental engineering. A $30,000 scholarship will be awarded each year in each island district. Each year, the Authority will identify what field, or fields, of study the scholarship will be issued for.

“The scholarship program provides financial assistance to graduating V.I. high school seniors, as well as freshmen or sophomores at the University of the Virgin Islands who are presently enrolled in or plan to enroll in an accredited engineering program,” WAPA Executive Director Julio Rhymer said in a statement after the board meeting. He said the scholarships aid the efforts of the Authority in maintaining highly skilled technical employees and in meeting the changing needs of the organization.

WAPA meetings often take a break from the business of the utility for a human-interest segment they call “WAPA…Working for You!” Thursday, Chemical Lab Supervisor Tunda Meyers spoke about her job. Working at the Authority since 2007, Meyers held several positions within the lab before becoming the supervisor. While explaining to the board members what the lab does on a daily basis, Meyers said their first priority is safety. She listed the items used to ensure the safety of the employees within the lab, as well as the employees at the Randolph Harley Power Plant. One of the duties Meyers mentioned was the regular testing of storm drain runoff after a heavy rain.

Rhymer reported WAPA is demolishing and removing obsolete equipment to make way for three new generating units. In February, WAPA started to take initial steps to bolster its cash flow to improve its finances.

“We implemented the interim base rate that will produce approximately $14.5 million dollars per year. This funding will secure the acquisition of new generating units and the leasing of a temporary bi-fuel unit,” Rhymer said, adding this would save around $14 million in fuel the first year and up to $20 million per year starting around 2021. Gasoline taxes will pay for financing the first five to six units, then a portion of the fuel savings will help finance more units “until we have replaced all existing generators with new, right-sized units in line with the recommendations of the Integrated Resource Plan,” he said.

Rhymer also talked about efforts to find solutions to move forward with projects stalled due to financial constraints, like automated payment kiosks, interactive voice response systems, meter management systems are being rolled out and implemented. WAPA also needs to upgrade or replace its financial management system because it cannot keep pace with sweeping technological changes at WAPA he said.

Board members in attendance included: Chairwoman Elizabeth Armstrong, Vice Chair Noel Loftus, Secretary Juanita Young, Gerald Groner, Cheryl Boynes-Jackson, Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Devin Carrington and Internal Revenue Bureau Director Marvin Pickering. Public Works Commissioner Gustav James and Hubert Turnbull were absent.

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