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Concerns Mount Over WAPA Rate Hike Proposal Amid Rising Solar Adoption

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The Virgin Islands Public Services Commission expressed grave concerns on Tuesday regarding a potential increase in the Levelized Energy Adjustment Clause (LEAC) rates proposed by the Water and Power Authority (WAPA). This move, officials fear, may further shrink WAPA’s already diminishing customer base.

During a Senate Committee meeting on Government Operations, Veterans Affairs, and Consumer Protection, PSC Executive Director Sandra Setorie cautioned that raising the electric LEAC could be counterproductive. The LEAC has been held steady since 2022, falling below the actual costs of fuel and purchased power. The Virgin Islands government has been subsidizing these additional expenses, preventing them from burdening consumers. Despite this, WAPA has accumulated around $90 million in deferred balances and is considering applying for a LEAC increase to address this financial shortfall.

Ms. Setorie underscored the potential negative impact of higher LEAC rates on WAPA’s customer retention. The authority witnessed a 30% drop in sales from 2012 to 2017, a trend that might be exacerbated by increased electricity costs. She pointed out that, for many, solar and battery systems are becoming more cost-effective alternatives to WAPA’s services.

The committee, including Senator Ray Fonseca, reacted with concern to these revelations. Mr. Fonseca highlighted the vicious cycle where customer loss leads to higher bills. He inquired about WAPA’s strategies to expand its customer base, to which Ms. Setorie responded that the authority is planning to increase its focus on renewable energy sources like solar and wind to lower energy rates. WAPA’s commitment to this transition has been evident in its recent agreements for wind and solar power procurement.

Boyd Sprehn, the PSC’s general counsel, noted that WAPA anticipates lower operating costs in the future, due to sustainable energy initiatives and the transition from diesel to propane in power generation. These cost savings, he explained, could eventually be passed on to consumers.

Yet, with no concrete timeline for these developments, committee members, including Senator Milton Potter, expressed concern about WAPA’s immediate and long-term viability amidst increasing customer migration to alternative energy sources. Ms. Setorie concurred, acknowledging the risks faced by all power utilities in this changing landscape.

The PSC remains committed to guiding WAPA in integrating alternative energy, despite the slow pace of progress. Senator Novelle Francis raised concerns about the impact on vulnerable citizens who rely on WAPA, pointing out that those who can afford to leave the system are doing so, leaving those with limited means more exposed to potential cost increases. This scenario could necessitate continued government subsidies for WAPA, further straining public resources.

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WAPA

Nearly All Impacted by WAPA Billing Error Receive Refunds

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The Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA) has resolved a billing error that inadvertently affected around 3,000 customers due to a glitch during system testing. The mishap occurred on Monday evening when, during a routine trial in their billing system’s test environment, unintended charges were mistakenly applied to customer accounts.

WAPA acted promptly to address the error, successfully reversing the incorrect charges for all affected accounts except two. Customers who were impacted should see a reversal transaction on their account statements, which will display as a negative amount reflecting the refund.

The utility also clarified that for those customers whose charges are still showing as pending on their bank statements, these will automatically be removed without any action needed from the customer. WAPA stressed that these pending charges will simply disappear, and the customer’s balance will adjust accordingly.

WAPA expressed regret over the confusion and inconvenience caused by the glitch. They are currently making efforts to ensure all remaining issues are swiftly corrected to prevent future occurrences.

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Rotational Power Outages Scheduled in USVI Due to Weather and Equipment Challenges

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The Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA) has scheduled rotational power outages across the St. Thomas/St. John and St. Croix districts. This decision stems from challenging marine weather conditions and malfunctioning generation units. The authority views these outages as a strategic approach to circumvent more extensive power disruptions and to keep electricity flowing in critical areas.

Ashley Bryan, WAPA’s Chief Operation Officer, emphasized the necessity of these outages. “While we recognize the disruptions our decision may cause, these measures are crucial to prevent broader outages and ensure ongoing electrical service over the weekend,” Bryan stated. She further highlighted the efforts to balance the impact of short-term outages on fewer customers against the risk of more widespread blackouts.

Specifically, in the St. Thomas/St. John district, the combination of adverse weather and a dwindling fuel supply raises the potential for widespread power failure. To counter this threat, WAPA plans to initiate rotational outages from late Friday or early Saturday, continuing through Sunday, prioritizing electricity for essential services.

In St. Croix, the problem is compounded by several offline generation units, which will lead to reduced power output from the Estate Richmond Power Plant beginning Saturday. To manage this, the authority will implement outages during peak times—noon to 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.—until further notice. WAPA is calling on all residents and businesses to conserve energy, which is vital for stabilizing the grid and ensuring functional feeders.

WAPA is actively working on these challenges to reduce the frequency and duration of disruptions and extends its apologies for any inconvenience these necessary measures may cause.

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PSC Stands Ground on Electricity Rates Despite WAPA’s Deferred Fuel Cost Dilemma

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The Public Services Commission (PSC) recently addressed the Water & Power Authority’s (WAPA) plea to extend the existing electricity rate under the Levelized Energy Adjustment Clause (LEAC), amid discussions about the disparity between WAPA’s fuel expenditures and the costs recovered from consumers.

WAPA’s argument of a burgeoning deferred fuel cost balance could not sway the commission, primarily due to the absence of audited financial statements for recent years. This lack of financial transparency hampered discussions about transferring these costs to consumers, the PSC highlighted.

During a presentation, consultant Jim Madden pointed out that WAPA has requested the maintenance of the current LEAC rate of 22.22 cents per kilowatt-hour until at least June 30. He emphasized that while considering this extension, it’s important to acknowledge the deferred fuel balance for the electric system stood at $18 million as per the latest audited financial statement from fiscal year 2020, nearly three and a half years ago.

PSC Commissioner David Hughes intervened with a reminder that the commission had previously resolved to defer discussions on deferred fuel balances until WAPA submits audited financial statements. A brief discussion ensued, leading to a consensus to hear out the report with the understanding that no decisions regarding the deferred fuel cost balance would be concluded.

Madden expressed that the resolution on how to manage the growing gap between fuel costs and consumer charges depends on guidance from the commission. Yet, Hughes posited that this disparity might not even exist, suggesting that a reevaluation of the calculations could eliminate the deferred fuel balance from WAPA’s financial records. The true state of affairs, he argued, could only be determined through the pending audits.

Clarifying WAPA’s stance, CEO Andrew Smith mentioned that the utility is not seeking deferred fuel recovery at the moment. Subsequently, Hughes proposed, and the commission unanimously agreed, to extend the current LEAC rate into the upcoming quarter.

However, Madden hinted at the looming necessity to address the recorded discrepancies, suggesting that this issue might resurface in future discussions.

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