Disaster Recovery

Major Boost for USVI: Bryan Announces Up to $600 Million in FEMA Funding for Power Plant Replacement

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In a significant development for the U.S. Virgin Islands, Governor Albert Bryan Jr. announced on Wednesday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will fund the comprehensive replacement of the V.I. Water and Power Authority’s (WAPA) Estate Richmond Power Plant on St. Croix and upgrade several units on St. Thomas.

Governor Bryan revealed that the news came during a Monday call with FEMA, offering a much-needed boost for WAPA, which has been grappling with grid failures, power rotations, damaged equipment, adverse weather, and low fuel inventory.

“We are already well on the way to fixing the St. Thomas plant,” Bryan stated. “With this new addition, we can replace older and damaged units on St. Croix, significantly improving reliability and affordability by using more efficient units.”

Adrienne Williams-Octalien, director of the Office of Disaster Recovery, emphasized the benefits of an updated power plant, including better interconnections for renewable energy. She highlighted that the approval followed a joint request by ODR and WAPA to FEMA four years ago. This request covered the St. Croix power plant and multiple generators at the Randolph Harley plant on St. Thomas.

With FEMA’s approval, the agencies will start drafting solicitations and securing contracts promptly. The project costs, estimated between $400 million and $600 million, must be validated through FEMA’s costing center before funds are obligated. Williams-Octalien noted the importance of completing this by September to leverage the current relaxed matching funds requirements for local government. “We want to ensure that we get this project started within the next 12 months,” she said.

Despite the positive news, WAPA’s ability to manage this significant funding amid its financial and management crises remains a concern. Governor Bryan stressed the need for the agency’s staff and management to focus on ongoing projects, such as solar and wind farms, undersea cable repairs to St. John, and building redundancies in the power supply. He suggested incorporating the St. Croix power plant rebuild into the territory’s broader recovery efforts, as part of the billion-dollar Rebuild VI project packages designated for major contractors.

Kyle Fleming, chair of WAPA’s governing board, acknowledged that this funding is not a panacea for all of WAPA’s issues, including delays in crucial projects. However, he praised the Incident Command Team for making significant progress in addressing these challenges. “It really is a divide and conquer mentality,” Fleming said, noting that the incident command structure has improved team collaboration and focus.

As officials work to ensure the successful replacement of the Estate Richmond power plant on St. Croix, Governor Bryan has pledged unwavering support for WAPA’s efforts to achieve sustainable operations and a brighter energy future for the territory. “We got to do what we got to do to keep the power on,” he declared.

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