March 5, 2003 – One of the two undersea cables that carry Water and Power Authority electricity from St. Thomas to St. John has "no remaining useful life," the utility's executive director, Alberto Bruno Vega, told a St. John audience Wednesday evening.
"We need to do something urgently," Bruno said at the meeting, held at the Legislature Building in Cruz Bay.
He said he made that determination based on testing of a cable section that had been removed. The actual cable will be tested next week, he said.
The undersea cables have suffered because of being overloaded, Bruno said.
He said it will cost $2.5 million to replace the cable.
A half dozen St. John residents attended the meeting held as a forum for Bruno and some of his staff to explain WAPA's need for a rate increase. He said that money raised through the rate increase would fund projects such as replacing the undersea cable.
The Public Services Commission is expected to decide on the requested rate increases in mid-March.
WAPA's average residential customer uses 500 kilowatts of electricity per month and now pays $84 for it. That average bill will increase by $13.01 to $97, an increase of 15.5 percent, if the PSC approves the utility's request. Customers at different usage levels will see increases ranging from 14.6 percent for a 1,000-kilowatt-customer to 21 percent for those who use only 100 kilowatts a month.
The average commercial customer uses 1,200 kilowatts per month. That customer now pays $230.08, but will see an increase of $28.91 to $259, an increase of 12.6 percent. As with residential rates, the volume will determine the rate of increase. If a commercial customer uses 2,500 kilowatts, the bill will increase to $531.45 from $473.93, a 12.1 percent hike. A commercial customer using 100 kilowatts will see an increase to $28.46 from $23.76, or 19.8 percent.
WAPA has started work on a $2.8 million substation that will be the first for St. John. It's being constructed adjacent to the utility's desalination plant at Frank Bay. Bruno said it should be online in nine or 10 months. The project is being funded out of money that had been slated for a new WAPA administration building on St. Thomas. That building, Bruno said, is on hold indefinitely.
Installation of the substation will improve WAPA's power distribution system, he said.
The demand for electricity is continuing to increase on both islands at a rapid rate, Bruno said. He pointed out that what happens on St. Thomas power wise affects St. John, since the islands are linked together by the undersea cables.
So when WAPA makes $20.1 million worth of improvements that are slated for its St. Thomas plant, St. John's power will improve. He said the $20.1 million will come from bonds to be paid back with money generated by the proposed rate increase.
The meeting proceeded in routine fashion until Bruno finished explaining how some existing surcharges will be regrouped under an energy charge once the rate increase is in place and how residents will continue to pay a small monthly surcharge for streetlights.
This set St. Thomas resident Robert Barton off. He told Bruno he would have to pay 15 percent more for groceries and other essentials because the electrical rates were going up by about that amount. "You guys got to get a grip on reality and expenses," he said.
Bruno told him that the Senate passed a bill shifting responsibility for streetlights to WAPA but the administration has failed to fund it. He said WAPA has no choice other than to pass the expense on to customers.
Barton then launched into a tirade about WAPA's controversial purchase of land adjacent to its Richmond power plant. Noting that it "reeks of impropriety," he asked if the ratepayers had to pay the $2.2 million price tag. "Somebody ought to be going to the crowbar hotel," he said.
Bruno said he couldn't comment on the matter because it is under investigation.

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