Home News Local news WAPA 10-Year Plan to Require $1 Billion in Funding

WAPA 10-Year Plan to Require $1 Billion in Funding

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Dec. 15, 2006 — A 10-year plan to significantly reduce electricity costs and improve efficiency to customers was unanimously approved by members of the V.I. Water and Power Authority Board Thursday night at the authority's Sunny Isle headquarters. However, WAPA Executive Director Alberto Bruno-Vega cautioned board members, "All of this is contingent upon finding one billion dollars."
"This [plan] is a model for WAPA to follow," board member Alphonso Franklin said. "The cost of electricity would be significantly reduced to the customer."
The unanimous vote came shortly after board member Claude "Tappy" Molloy questioned the authority's ability to fund the proposal.
Bruno-Vega agreed that raising $1 billion was a tall order but that it could be attained through "joint-venture" and "third-party agreements." The proposal, he added, was not cast in stone and could be modified accordingly.
"It is good to be optimistic, but it's better to be realistic," Molloy said, before choosing the former and voting in favor of the proposal, which board member Franklin said had to approved in anticipation of the plan being revisited Friday during a daylong board retreat at Divi Casino Bay Resort.
Gov.-elect John deJongh and Lt. Gov.-elect Gregory R. Francis are among several government and private-sector officials invited to attend.
On the agenda is a presentation by Stephen K. Oney, on Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) technology for the territory. Oney, who is president of OCEES International, met Bruno-Vega and other board members last month in Hawaii during the U.S. Department of Interior's Island Business Opportunities Conference.
Board chairman Daryl "Mickey" Lynch indicated that Oney will do more than just make a presentation Friday, noting that while members of the board were maligned by "employees and in the media" for taking the Hawaii trip, "the fruits have come home to bear."
Oney's company, he said, is open to a joint venture with WAPA. On hand for Thursday night's meeting, Oney said in brief remarks that his company is "amendable to a joint agreement."
Also at Friday's retreat will be David B. Cohen, deputy assistant secretary for Insular Affairs. In addition to being a featured speaker, Cohen is scheduled to discuss a recently completed Territorial Energy Assessment report, which Bruno-Vega says provides WAPA with recommendations on diversifying its energy portfolio. Bruno-Vega said that a response from WAPA is due "soon" to the U.S. Congress, which mandated under its Energy Policy Act of 2005 that the territory (along with other U.S. possessions) come up with renewable and alternative energy plans.
At Thursday's meeting, discussions also centered on talks that began in August to seek a joint venture with Hovensa to construct a petroleum coke-fired power plant on St. Croix. In a letter dated Dec. 12, Hovensa declined to undertake the joint venture with WAPA.
"Hovensa has considered WAPA's proposal and concluded that the company will not be in a position to enter into such a joint venture in the foreseeable future," Hovensa Vice President for Government Affairs Alex Moorhead wrote to Bruno-Vega.
Lynch, who read the letter into the record at the meeting, said Hovensa's action was an "insult."
Franklin, who quickly interrupted Lynch, was a bit more reserved. "I would not be one to condemn Hovensa because they have stated that they're not willing at this time to get into a joint venture," he said, adding that the refinery sells fuel to WAPA at reduced costs.
Bruno-Vega recommended that Gov.-elect deJongh meet with Hovensa owners, whom he said reside on the U.S. Mainland and Venezuela.
In other discussions:
In response to board members' questions, WAPA CFO Nellon Bowry said that the authority remains under a "negative watch" with its bond rating chiefly because of account receivables that remain uncollected from the government. As of Nov. 30, the government owed WAPA $18.6 million in overdue electric and water bills. Of that total, $14.4 million are electricity costs, with Juan F. Luis Hospital owing the bulk at $4.9 million. The Department of Finance, which WAPA bills for street lights, ranked second with $3.5 million. On the water side, the V.I. Housing Authority owes the bulk at $1.6 million, and Housing Parks and Recreation with a little over $400,000. Board members acknowledged that payments are on the way but that issues with the government's new finance system are likely causing delays.
Board members also voted to:
–reprogram budget funds for waterline expansion Smith Bay Phase 3 and electric ducts at a cost of $2.62 million;
–renew its excess liability insurance policy at a cost of $747,143;
–increase the standard mileage reimbursement rate from 35 cents to 55 cents for use of personal vehicles to conduct WAPA business;
–Purchase transformers for the St. Croix electrical distribution system at a cost of $277,000; and
–replace phone systems for St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix at a cost 342,393.
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