Jan. 27, 2003 – Water and Power Authority engineers facing multiple problems Monday morning with the utility's power-generating system on St. Thomas called on major consumers to curb their electricity usage. But after a day of wrestling with two units, officials said things were not as critical as they first thought.
"This morning we thought we had a more severe problem than we did," Glenn Rothgeb, WAPA assistant executive director and director of operations, said. At that time the authority's largest generator, Unit 13, had developed a leak, and a backup generator, Unit 11, was experiencing problems after having been taken out of service for repairs over the weekend.
Both generators are located at the Randolph Harley Power Plant in Krum Bay. Rothgeb said technicians were able to deal with the leak and restore Unit 13 to partial service while repairs continue. Unit 11 had resumed operations by noon, he said.
During the critical hours of Monday morning, WAPA had contacted its largest customers, asking them to curb power usage. Once the request was made, Rothgeb said, demands for electricity dropped significantly.
Customers on St. Thomas and St. John, which gets its power from St. Thomas, are now being reminded to use surge protectors and uninterruptible power sources for their computers and other technical equipment until problems with the generator system can be fully resolved.
Power problems plagued WAPA on St. Thomas over the weekend, starting with a Friday evening outage caused by a malfunction of the newest generator, Unit 22. Engineers from Pratt and Whitney, which built the unit, are on island trying to find out what caused it to shut down, Rothgeb said. He adding that "it's going to take a few more weeks" to straighten things out.
Utility spokeswoman Patricia Blake Simmons said the manufacturer of the generator was called in when it became apparent that Unit 22 was not performing as expected. "Unit 22 has not proven to be dependable," she said, and "has not worked consistently since it was installed."
Compounding the situation, WAPA's second-largest generator on St. Thomas, Unit 18, has been taken off-line for a three months of maintenance work.
Power customers were advised last week to take steps to conserve electricity as a way to brace themselves against pending rate increases. The WAPA governing board voted to ask the Public Services Commission for an increased surcharge to counter fluctuating fuel costs and a new one to make up for the unpaid street lighting debt of the Public Works Department.
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