Sept. 21, 2001 — It will be at least 10 days before the V.I. Water and Power Authority board of directors makes a decision on whether the utility will purchase electricity and water from a proposed waste-to-energy plant aimed at ending the territory’s landfill crisis.
The WAPA board met Thursday on St. Croix to approve a contract between the utility and Caribe Waste Technologies, the company that won the V.I. government’s bidding process last year to construct a facility to handle the islands’ solid waste. CWT’s proposal calls for building a $180 million gasification plant on St. Croix to dispose of the big island’s solid waste and that from St. Thomas and St. John. WAPA is involved because in order for the project to go forward, the utility must purchase $11 million to $12 million worth of power and electricity a year from the waste-to-energy plant.
The purchases would reduce the approximately $37 million-a-year cost the government is expected to pay to about $25 million annually.
But frustration reigned at the WAPA board meeting on Thursday as CWT representatives and the utility’s management disagreed on who was responsible for the delay in having a decision made. In mid-August, the WAPA board hired a Washington, D.C.-based consultant to critique a proposed contract that set out terms for the utility to purchase water and power from the gasification plant. But Joseph Thomas, WAPA’s executive director, said that the requests by WAPA to CWT to arrange a meeting between operators of a gasification plant in Germany and the consultants were never made. That delay, Thomas said, has kept WAPA’s consultants from completing a report about the pros and cons of the contract and the gasification technology as it relates to electricity generation to the board.
"We wanted to confirm in our own minds we had reliable technology from the WAPA point of view, not the trash burning," Thomas said.
Thomas also said that the two gasification plants now in operation in Germany and Japan don’t convert waste into energy on a commercial level. That, he said, puts WAPA in a bind because if it does agree to purchase electricity from CWT, which WAPA management says it actually doesn’t need, it will have to modify operations at its current oil-burning plant.
"When you are taking on a technology that hasn’t been commercialized, you are taking on some risk," Thomas said. "We have to get to the facts as soon as possible."
That sentiment was shared by Mark Augenblick, CWT’s chairman and CEO. He said his company had first met with WAPA management in March 2000 and then was chosen last year by the V.I. government through a competitive bidding process to solve the territory’s solid waste problems. He noted a June 27 letter Gov. Charles Turnbull sent to the WAPA board exhorting it to sign a contract with CWT to help deal with the out-of-compliance landfills in the territory.
Also, because of the proximity of the St. Croix landfill to the island’s airport, the Federal Aviation Administration wants the dump closed by the end of 2002. If the landfill isn’t closed by then or a plan to deal with its closure not in place soon, the FAA has threatened to decertify the airport.
From the time Turnbull sent his letter to the WAPA board, Augenblick said it is "three months later and we still have the same solid waste crisis."
"We are frustrated as well," he said. "There is no genuine question about reliability."
Augenblick called Thomas’ assessment of the gasification process as a "back-handed slap" at the technology.
"That is not correct and the government knows that it is not correct," he said. "We have been validated by governments and validated by independent companies."
Pending the report by WAPA’s consultant and time for the utility’s management to digest the information, the WAPA board agreed to hold a special meeting on the CWT issue sometime during the first week of October. At the meeting, the consultant and CWT’s experts will both have an opportunity to debate the issue.


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