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Charlotte Amalie
Monday, May 20, 2024


Feb. 21, 2002 – The Water and Power Authority was overruled on its objection to its rate investigation hearing examiner, was relieved at least temporarily of the burden of paying for a study it didn't ask for, and came in for criticism on bill surcharge materials it has submitted at Wednesday's meeting of the Public Services Commission.
The recently reconstituted PSC had its hands full with a backlog of matters long neglected under the former commission, which frequently had been hard put to muster a quorum. Although commission chair Desmond Maynard cautioned members to respect time constraints, the hearing lasted until almost 5 p.m., covering 10 items, mostly concerning Innovative Communications Corp. and Water and Power Authority issues.
Although the PSC deferred a decision on an ICC/Innovative Telephone matter pending a court decision, it declined to do so for WAPA.
The authority had objected to having its rate investigation conducted by St. Croix attorney Ronald Russell as hearing examiner, because Russell represents a client who is currently suing WAPA in another matter.
WAPA has maintained it will not turn records over to Russell unless ordered to, because they may contain "sensitive" material which the authority wouldn't want to reveal to the lawyer given their adversarial status. The matter is on appeal in Territorial Court.
After hearing lengthy testimony from WAPA's attorney, Samuel Hall, and its legal counsel, Kathy Smith, on Wednesday, the commission voted to order WAPA to produce the requested rate information, with the caveat that it be submitted to the PSC only, and not to Russell.
The commission also voted to accept a payment of $10,000 volunteered by Caribbean Waste Technologies in lieu of some $30,000 it had talked about assessing WAPA at a January meeting to cover the expenses of CWT's demand for certification from the PSC as a qualified energy provider. Joseph Thomas, WAPA executive director, said that lets the utility off the hook for paying for the investigation for now, but "the devil is in the details." Maynard said the PSC could adjust the charges at a later date.
In the January meeting, the commission decided to postpone its decision on whether to assess WAPA about $30,000 to pay for the CWT certification probe. CWT has proposed a project to process the territory's solid waste in a way that would generate electricity, which it wants to sell to WAPA as a condition of the deal going forward.
The WAPA board rejected the purchase plan after Thomas said that the utility is capable of meeting energy needs on its own and that the technology proposed by CWT has not been proven commercially viable. CWT then asked the PSC to order WAPA to agree to buy the power output.
Several PSC members said they thought it was unfair to make WAPA pay for an investigation into CWT's ability to produce energy, but Watts said the commission does not have the legal authority to make CWT pay for the probe. And without funding, the investigation cannot move forward, he said.
Commission member Verne David brought big smiles from WAPA officials when he said Wednesday that he had just returned from hearings on similar matters in Washington, D.C., and that his impression was, "You cause the cost, you pay the cost."
David said it was "premature" to assess WAPA for the cost. He cited CWT as a "facility that proposes to produce [energy], not a facility that produces." CWT's attorney, Adriane J. Dudley, argued for reducing the amount to $10,000 from $30,000.
The motion to accept the $10,000 amount got one vote, from Jerris Browne, who moved it. Maynard, David and Valencio Jackson abstained. Alric Simmonds was absent for the vote, although he was present at the hearing for most of the day. PSC members Luther Renee and Alecia Wells did not attend the meeting. Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole, a non-voting commission member, pointed out that parliamentary procedure allows approval of a motion with only one yea vote and no nay votes, provided a quorum is present. For the seven voting member, a quorum is four.
A meeting with WAPA and CWT attorneys to create a hearing schedule for the certification study was scheduled for Thursday morning in the office of attorney Rosalie Ballentine, who will serve as hearing examiner.
"It's a ray of hope" for CWT, Dudley said. "It shows they take our application seriously."
Earlier in the day, the PSC questioned WAPA officials about material the authority was to have supplied on the status of bill surcharges. Simmonds claimed WAPA hadn't supplied specific materials requested. Thomas said he thought the authority's statement covered what had been asked, adding that many of the electric bill surcharges have by now virtually become "anachronisms."
Thomas said several of the surcharge funds are no longer required, since their original purposes have been met. He said the authority went before the PSC last summer to request the that surcharges be rolled into the base rates so as to eliminate confusion, but the PSC opted to extend them another year and requested that a rate study be done by the authority.
"We have directed that such a study be done by R.W. Beck consultants, so that these matters may be cleared up," Thomas said. "The authority has not had base rate relief since 1994." He added that WAPA will be reflecting the effects of declining oil prices as part of its upcoming rate case.
Maynard suggested that Thomas's explanations were "too general to ensure customers understand."
Thomas contended that the purpose of the PSC's request had "largely been served." He said WAPA is planning a series of evening town meetings soon territorywide which will address surcharges and any other utility issues the public has questions about.

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