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Innovative Training Program Elevates Safety and Skills at V.I. Water and Power Authority with $750,000 Grant

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Future electrical technicians receive hands-on training atop utility poles at Northwest Lineman College. Courtesy of NORTHWEST LINEMAN COLLEGE

The Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA) is taking a significant step forward with the introduction of a groundbreaking lineman training program aimed at enhancing both the skill set and safety protocols of its workforce. This initiative was highlighted at WAPA’s recent Governing Board meeting by Chief Operating Officer Ashley Bryan, with the training being conducted by the esteemed Northwest Lineman College (NLC) and supported by a generous $750,000 grant from the Department of Interior.

Northwest Lineman College, renowned for its comprehensive and demanding curriculum, is setting a new standard for lineman education. “The rigor and depth of the training provided by Northwest Lineman College are unparalleled compared to any previous programs we have engaged in,” remarked Ms. Bryan. The training will feature an advanced hot line school segment, demanding absolute precision from trainees on all procedures involving energized lines.

Ms. Bryan shed light on the necessity of this program, noting the inefficiency of WAPA’s existing three-year apprenticeship scheme which typically extends to five years before employees can safely handle energized work. “This timeframe is not in line with industry standards,” she observed, expressing optimism that the new training will better align job specifications with the practical acquisition of skills, thereby fast-tracking the proficiency of WAPA’s workforce in critical job roles.

Moreover, the program is set to propel WAPA to new heights of operational excellence, as stated by Ms. Bryan. Josh Jones, the Director of Safety, also emphasized the importance of shifting away from a culture of high risk tolerance to one where safety is paramount. He believes the training will be instrumental in dismantling unsafe practices and reducing the incidence of workplace injuries.

The announcement of this training initiative comes in the wake of a recent injury incident at WAPA in January, highlighting the urgent need for improved safety measures. According to Andrew Smith, the Executive Director, the program is designed to bolster linemen’s capabilities in recognizing and reporting hazards, thereby minimizing the risk of future injuries.

Additionally, Ms. Bryan highlighted the program’s role in modernizing WAPA’s operations as it starts integrating renewable energy sources and underground infrastructure into the territory’s electrical grid, marking a significant advancement in the utility’s commitment to innovation and safety.

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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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