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PSC Decides to Hold Electric LEAC Rates Constant Until Year’s End

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Close up of water meter with rotating digit.

The Public Services Commission (PSC) announced its decision on Tuesday to preserve the current electric Levelized Energy Adjustment Clause (LEAC) rate at 22.22 cents per kilowatt-hour. This decision, which was nearly unanimous with Commissioner Andrew Rutnick abstaining, implies that until December 31, 2023, residents of USVI will be charged 40 cents per kilowatt-hour for the initial 250 kWh, escalating to 43 cents thereafter. In contrast, commercial users are billed at a flat rate of 43 cents per kilowatt-hour.

This ratified rate, effective from October 1, 2023, was endorsed during a standard meeting steered by Vice-Chair Pedro Williams, as Chairman David Hughes was absent. Despite the unanimous vote, Commissioner Rutnick chose not to participate.

The Georgetown Consulting Group’s Jamshed Madan presented data that played a role in the Water and Power Authority’s (WAPA) late-July preliminary filing. This filing estimated the LEAC rate at a higher 23.90 cents per kilowatt-hour. This surge was attributed to anticipated hikes in oil prices, projected to escalate from $2.44/gallon in 2021 to $3.14/gallon within the specified forecast period. Alongside, the cost for LPG deliveries has surged, exceeding the PSC-endorsed 33 cents/gallon rate. Despite these economic pressures, WAPA has opted not to advocate for a rate exceeding the current 22.22 cents at the moment.

An intriguing element shared by Madan was the non-inclusion of four Wartsila generators in WAPA’s recent documents. Procured in 2021 and commissioned in August, these generators, Madan argued, should have been integrated into the energy cost projections. Offering more clarity, WAPA’s Executive Director, Andrew Smith, indicated that the infrastructure essential to operate these units using propane wouldn’t be operational until mid-November. Madan emphasized that incorporating propane might have led to a LEAC rate even more competitive than the current 22.22 cents.

Looking Ahead: LEAC Review Recommendations

Madan proposed that the PSC retain the prevailing LEAC rate for the upcoming quarter, while also expecting an updated filing for the January-March 2024 span by October 15 of the current year. He further proposed transitioning to a biannual LEAC assessment, to be updated every April 1 and October 1, in lieu of the current quarterly revisions. Despite this, WAPA would remain legally obligated to provide quarterly updates but could request mid-term rate adjustments if required.

Chairman Hughes expressed the need for more comprehensive discussions concerning the LEAC rate review frequency—whether to continue quarterly or move to a semi-annual system—as well as other consultant inputs, to be discussed in future meetings.

In conclusion, despite pressures from anticipated oil price hikes and LPG delivery rate increases, the PSC’s decision leans towards maintaining the LEAC rate.

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Government

Marijuana Regulations Approved in the U.S. Virgin Islands

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The U.S. Virgin Islands has taken a significant leap forward in its cannabis program with Governor Albert Bryan Jr.’s approval of comprehensive rules and regulations governing marijuana use and distribution. The announcement was made during a press briefing on Tuesday by Government House Communications Director Richard Motta.

The newly sanctioned regulations establish a structured framework for both medicinal and adult use of cannabis. This dual approach aims to facilitate recreational cannabis use under regulated conditions while ensuring its availability for therapeutic purposes. According to Mr. Motta, the regulatory environment “provides special protections and benefits to medicinal cannabis users.”

Previously available in draft form for public comment, the regulations detail the process for obtaining various licenses and certifications necessary for participating in the cannabis industry. These roles include designated caregivers, prescribing physicians, licensees, third-party vendors, and consultants. Mr. Motta emphasized the importance of contacting the Office of Cannabis Regulation for those interested in getting involved.

Governor Bryan has expressed pride in the legislative and executive efforts that led to these comprehensive regulations. Notably, the Virgin Islands is the first U.S. jurisdiction to allow for the sacramental use of cannabis, recognizing its cultural significance. “With a closed economy such as ours, the governor believes it is important to provide opportunities for residents to participate in the program, whether as business owners, partners, employees, or patients,” added Motta.

In addition to facilitating legal cannabis use, the regulations address past injustices related to cannabis convictions. The new rules include provisions for the automatic expungement of certain cannabis-related crimes, enabling individuals previously marginalized due to past convictions to participate in the legal cannabis market. This initiative is part of a broader effort to promote social equity within the industry.

The governor’s approval marks the culmination of a long process of drafting and vetting. The regulations have been reviewed for legal sufficiency and are now ready for implementation. “For those of you who have been eagerly anticipating the rules and regulations for the adult use and medicinal cannabis rollout in the territory, they have officially been completed,” announced Motta.

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Bryan Names Kevin Rodriguez as Interim Island Administrator for St. Thomas/Water Island District

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Governor Albert Bryan Jr. has appointed Kevin Rodriguez, his former deputy chief of staff, as the Interim Island Administrator for the St. Thomas/Water Island District. This change follows Administrator Avery Lewis’s decision to pursue a seat in the 36th Legislature of the Virgin Islands.

Under Virgin Islands law (Title 18, Chapter 1, Subsection 2 of the Virgin Islands Code), candidates for the Virgin Islands Legislature must take a leave of absence from their government positions from the date they file their nomination petition until the general election concludes. Lewis filed his nomination papers on May 22, prompting the need for this interim leadership adjustment.

“Avery Lewis has been a dedicated and committed servant to the St. Thomas/Water Island district. Although we will miss his contributions in his current role, we support his decision to run for the Legislature and wish him success in his future endeavors,” Governor Bryan said.

Rodriguez’s appointment as Interim Island Administrator is backed by his extensive experience in public administration and his deep understanding of the community’s needs and challenges. Gov’t House officials believe his leadership will ensure a smooth continuation of services during this transitional period.

“I am confident that Kevin Rodriguez will effectively assist the residents of St. Thomas and Water Island during this time of transition. His proven record of effective management and community engagement makes him well-suited to advance our progress,” Governor Bryan added.

The governor expressed his gratitude to both Lewis for his service and Rodriguez for stepping into this vital role at a significant time for the islands.

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Central Government Staff Honored at Employee of the Year Ceremony

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The Government of the Virgin Islands recently celebrated its most outstanding employees in a series of ceremonies on St. Croix and St. Thomas. More than 6,000 government employees were eligible, but only a select few were honored for their exceptional service and contributions to their divisions and the community.

At the ceremony in St. Croix, Division of Personnel Director Cindy Richardson highlighted the critical role these employees play in enhancing the operations of their agencies and improving the quality of life across the territory. She lauded the honorees for their exemplary service and professionalism.

Governor Albert Bryan Jr. dispelled the notion that government workers are lackadaisical, instead praising the honorees for their dedication and impact. “You are pretty special,” he affirmed, acknowledging their positive influence within the community and among their colleagues.

Senate President Novelle Francis identified the honorees as the “cream of the crop,” and spotlighted Alfred Donowa, the employee of the year from the facilities management division in St. Croix. Donowa was praised for setting a high standard for his team. In St. Thomas, Adele Thomas was recognized as the employee of the year for her role as a receptionist in the Legislature’s offices.

The Lieutenant Governor Tregenza Roach also took part in the celebrations, commending employees like Carmen Francis from the Real Property Tax Division for her exceptional customer service, and Chris George from the Geographic Information Systems Division for his leadership.

The ceremonies not only recognized the honorees’ professional excellence but also their passion for their roles within the government. Lieutenant Governor Roach emphasized the importance of ongoing professional development to maintain job satisfaction and retain valuable staff.

The list of honorees included individuals from various departments such as Rachel Haverkorn of the Office of the Governor and Marianne Navarro from the Virgin Islands Lottery. From the Department of Agriculture, Maxine Richards was honored, and from the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, Diana Gumbs took the title. Belgrave Stedman was recognized from the Water and Power Authority, celebrated for his achievements despite public skepticism about the utility’s successes.

These ceremonies serve as a vital reminder of the dedicated individuals who contribute significantly to the functioning and improvement of government services in the Virgin Islands.

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