June 22, 2004 – The Senate Labor and Veterans Affairs Committee reviewed a proposal on Monday by Caribbean Energy Resources Corp. to construct an industrial complex on St. Croix that corporate officials say would provide some 1,327 jobs.
But they said getting financing for the complex and leasing land for it hinge on getting WAPA to agree to purchase electricity from a small power plant that is part of the package.
The committee met on St. Croix to take testimony regarding the current status of the island's labor force and to review the CERC proposal.
Labor Commissioner Cecil Benjamin told senators St. Croix's unemployment rate was 13.3 percent in March 2003 and is 10.5 percent today. With a labor force of 19,460, about 2,050 persons are looking for work, he said.
"I have a deep and abiding concern for the residents of St. Croix who are unemployed," Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, the committee chair, said. "The situation is totally unacceptable. It is imperative that we do something about it."
Benjamin said his department has been "vigilant" in trying to provide employment opportunities and training for jobless youths and adults.
"The Department of Labor stands behind any venture, project, partnership that will provide job training and employment opportunities for the people of this territory, particularly the residents of St. Croix," Benjamin said. "We therefore support the proposal submitted by Caribbean Energy Resources Corp. to construct an industrial complex on St. Croix."
The Public Services Commission certified CERC as a small power provider last February.
The complex as proposed would include a small 30-megawatt power plant. George Wronge, the company's chief executive officer, told the Senate committee on Monday that in order for CERC to secure financing for the complex, it must first obtain agreement from WAPA to purchase some of the electricity that the company will produce. Also, he said, the formalization of a lease from the Port Authority of land located near Hovensa is dependent of the power purchase agreement with WAPA.
Glenn Rothgeb, WAPA chief operating officer, told the senators that the authority will be sending out requests for proposals for purchase-of-power agreements in July to five companies — Caribe Waste Technologies, Florida Power and Light, Sea Solar, Renaissance Group and Caribbean Energy Resources.
Sen. Usie Richards told Rothgeb that by law WAPA should send the RFPs only to Caribbean Waste Technologies and Caribbean Energy Resources — because those are the only companies that are certified in the territory as small power providers.
"I was of the understanding that we could negotiate with anyone we so desire," Rothgeb replied.
The Renaissance Group is a St. Croix enterprise which already has a power plant in existence, one that can use either oil or coal as its fuel. The company purchased the former V.I. Alumina property on St. Croix's south shore in 2002 and as of last year was selling potable water to haulers. (See the St. Croix Source report "Renaissance Tour Includes a Look at the Future".)
Richards said he wished that WAPA's executive director, Alberto Bruno-Vega, had been at the meeting to hear how the utility is "holding up" employment opportunities on St. Croix by not agreeing to purchase power from CERC.
Wronge told the senators CERC's planned industrial complex would create 777 permanent jobs, 500 construction jobs and 50 fabrication jobs for a total of 1,327 positions. Total island employment could be expected to rise by almost 3,500 because of indirect jobs, he added.
He estimated the total capital costs for the project at $178.7 million. And "we are not requesting one red cent from your government," he said. "All funds are from private investors."
Committee members present at the meeting were Baptiste and Sens. Luther Renee and Richards. Sens. Douglas Canton Jr., Louis Hill and Celestino A. White Sr. were not present.
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