Oct. 1, 2004 Alberto Bruno-Vega, executive director of the Water and Power Authority, brought support — a dozen or so people whom he referred to as "the men and women of WAPA" as he faced off with Valencio Jackson, the chairman of the Public Services Commission on Thursday in Frederiksted. But the support did little good as the PSC refused to reconsider its order telling WAPA not to go out for bids for alternative suppliers of power.
Bruno-Vega and Jackson repeatedly say they agree on goals inexpensive and reliable power for V.I. residents but they appeared headed toward an expensive legal battle for which the consumers will foot the bill.
The main contention between the two is how WAPA should contract with an alternative supplier of power. WAPA sent out solicitation for bids though it was ordered by the PSC not to. (See "WAPA Moves Ahead Without Blessing of PSC").
Jackson told Bruno-Vega, "We have sent you two qualified facilities and are about to send you a third."
His position is that WAPA could affect immediate rate savings for customers if it negotiated a deal with one of the qualified vendors. Both men agreed that WAPA's present reliance on oil for all its energy is not good. Bruno-Vega said the Renaissance Group was the only qualified vendor that could provide energy in the short term.
Bruno-Vega has initiated a bidding process that could be quite lengthy and tedious. He defended his action Thursday by saying that the request for bids would make the process "transparent" and make sure fraud and favoritism did not corrupt it.
He said that 18 potential energy providers had met with WAPA earlier this week. Commission Board Member Verne David asked if Bruno-Vega would provide the names of those potential bidders to the commission. Bruno-Vega said no.
Bruno-Vega has maintained that the PSC has gone outside its jurisdiction in trying to micro-manage WAPA. His position is that the PSC authority remains only in setting rates.
David countered, "You say we are overstepping our boundaries, but this is all about rates."
Bruno-Vega said the PSC would have final approval over whatever supplier WAPA chose.
David said, "The statute does not stipulate at what point in the process we come in."
David also wondered why WAPA was interested in the bid process now. He said, "WAPA has purchased equipment costing $22, $23, or $24 million dollars. There were no bids. The equipment doesn't work. It is just sitting there."
Bruno-Vega responded, "There are exceptions." He wanted to explain further, but Valencio cut him off.
The bid process initiated by WAPA would award an alternative energy supplier a 15-year contract, with a possible five-year extension. Bruno-Vega said the contract would be worth many, many millions of dollars.
He has said that if the PSC refused to allow the bidding process to continue WAPA would be forced to take the matter to court. The PSC Thursday refused to act on WAPA's petition to reconsider the order not to seek bids, this effectively denies the petition.
WAPA officials were to continue testifying before the PSC on Friday, but the subject has now turned to energy and water losses suffered by the public utility.
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