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PSC and WAPA Battle as Electric Bills Skyrocket


April 8, 2005 – "WAPA has taken us to court four or five times. Maybe it's our turn to do the taking," said Valencio Jackson, chairman of the Public Services Commission, at a PSC meeting Friday on St. Croix.
The threat of a lawsuit came during the testiest exchange of the afternoon between Jackson and Alberto Bruno-Vega, the chief executive officer of the Water and Power Authority. Jackson was trying to question a WAPA financial officer about getting information on "avoided costs" – a term meaning costs that a power company avoids when, instead of producing power, it purchases it from another supplier. But Bruno-Vega wanted to answer the question. Jackson kept telling Bruno-Vega that he did not want to hear from him.
The question was raised whether Bruno-Vega had the legal right to insert himself between a commissioner and a staff member that the commission member wanted to question. Boyd Sphrien, PSC legal counsel, said that Bruno-Vega did not have that right, and Sphrien noted that it was a misdemeanor for someone appearing before the commission to refuse to answer a question.
The episode ended when the commission passed a motion giving WAPA 30 days to provide the information before the issue would be turned over the Attorney General's office.
Although Valencio and Bruno-Vega battled over the information on avoided costs, they did agree on a main point. When Jackson discussed how important it was for WAPA to get away from relying on oil, Bruno-Vega interrupted and said, "We at WAPA agree with you 100 percent."
Commission member Jerris Browne had brought up a complaint that Virgin Islanders were paying twice as much for power as people in the states were. Bruno-Vega said that is because only 3.6 percent of stateside power is generated by oil, while all of WAPA's power is generated by burning oil.
Oil-generated power is about to get even more expensive. Jackson said he had information indicating that oil was selling at above $53 per barrel and would soon top $60.
The rising cost of oil will force residents' bills to increase 7 percent in the next billing period, Bruno-Vega said. A barrel of oil was selling in the mid-$20 range just a few years ago, but Bruno-Vega said that scenario was not going to return.
Even if they agree on the goal, Jackson and Bruno-Vega could not agree on how to get there.
Last September, WAPA sent out requests for bids for alternative power suppliers. (See "WAPA Moves Ahead Without Blessing of PSC").
That process could have been completed months ago, but the PSC ordered WAPA to stop the process. WAPA asked the court to force the PSC to rescind its order, but the court would not do so. There have been appeals, and both sides are still awaiting a final ruling.
Meanwhile the PSC has been certifying power suppliers. (See "Renaissance Certified by PSC as Potential Supplier").
According to Jackson, WAPA can do business with the suppliers that the commission certifies and skip the bidding process.

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