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WAPA Composite Poles’ Resilience Tested by Vehicle Collisions; Authority Eyes Legal Action for Damages

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At a recent Senate Committee assembly focused on Disaster Recovery, Infrastructure, and Planning, WAPA’s Executive Director, Andrew Smith, provided an update on the ongoing installation of composite utility poles across the region. He reported a commendable 90% completion rate in fortifying the island’s infrastructure. But concerns surfaced regarding the poles’ susceptibility to vehicular mishaps, especially after witnessing two poles in St. John “snap cleanly in two.”

WAPA’s administration acknowledged this shortcoming and unveiled their strategic approach to rectify the situation. This includes replacing the affected poles and, importantly, seeking compensation from those accountable for the damages.

Cordell Jacobs, WAPA’s Project Manager, shared detailed insights into the project’s status. He said, “Of the targeted 8,600 fiberglass polymer poles, around 7,600 have been successfully installed.” These state-of-the-art poles, boasting a wind resistance of up to 180 mph, come with a promising 41-year manufacturer warranty against damages from windstorms. Their installation, combined with the ongoing transition of essential electrical distribution lines underground, underscores WAPA’s commitment to fortifying the island against nature’s fury, especially the treacherous hurricanes.

However, Senator Alma Francis Heyliger highlighted a stark observation. She recalled witnessing two poles in St. John’s that had “shattered in the middle.” She questioned, “When these were first introduced post the hurricanes, we were assured of their flexibility. So why are we seeing them break so easily now?”

Ashley Bryan, who spearheads WAPA’s electric systems, addressed the Senator’s query, noting, “The primary culprit is vehicular accidents. While these poles are built for resilience, they aren’t invincible to impacts.”

Andrew Smith further elucidated that the dynamic forces exerted by high-speed winds, which might lead to poles swaying, differ significantly from the sudden jolt of a car collision at significant speeds. The latter, unfortunately, proves too forceful for the poles to withstand.

Ms. Heyliger expressed further apprehensions about the reliability of the grid, especially if these poles continue to fall victim to vehicular incidents. Ms. Bryan assured the committee of WAPA’s proactive measures to address this concern, stating, “In collaboration with FEMA, WAPA is gearing up internally with the necessary equipment to upkeep these systems. Meanwhile, we’re also strategizing to replace the damaged composite poles with traditional wooden poles.”

Senator Kenneth Gittens, concerned about WAPA’s financial recoupment strategy, inquired about the reparations for the infrastructure damage.

Mr. Smith, addressing the Senator’s question, confirmed that they have identified four compromised poles, all located in Coral Bay. He emphasized, “Regardless of the pole type, when someone damages our infrastructure, we take necessary actions to recover the costs. Given the premium price tag of these composite poles, the implicated individuals can expect legal actions against them.”

In conclusion, while WAPA’s endeavors to enhance the island’s resilience through state-of-the-art poles are commendable, challenges remain. The authority’s commitment to addressing these concerns and safeguarding their infrastructure assets is apparent in their proactive initiatives and recovery strategies.

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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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