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WAPA Head, Legislators Discuss Amendment

Oct. 6, 2004 – Alberto Bruno-Vega, Water and Power Authority executive director, has softened his tone after meeting with Sen. Noman Jn Baptiste and other senators Wednesday. They discussed an amendment to the Financial Services Act offered by Jn Baptiste.
Bruno-Vega had vehemently objected to the amendment last week, saying it tied his hands in negotiating for lower-priced alternative power sources.
Bruno-Vega said the meeting had a "very positive outcome."
For his part, Jn Baptiste said the meeting was "productive." He said, "We were able to have some kind of dialogue. He presented his concerns – some unfounded, some with merit — and I presented mine."
The Senate overwhelmingly approved the amendment last week. It directed WAPA to negotiate and enter into a power-purchase agreement with any small power producer or co-generator on St. Croix. The co-generator had to have been certified by the Public Services Commission and committed to investing $150 million on St. Croix within a four-year period.
The Financial Services Act was one of the budget bills approved by the Senate Monday.
Bruno-Vega has been vigorous in his objection to the legislation. He told members of the Public Services Commission Friday, "Making this (legislation) law would be like putting a shotgun to the head of the WAPA executive director. This bill inhibits and prohibits WAPA from negotiating to get lower rates. The only thing missing from this bill is the name of the company." (See "WAPA-PSC Fight Comes to a Head in Senate.").
Bruno-Vega changed his tune Wednesday after the meeting with the senators. He said they had discussed modifications to the amendment, without revealing specifically what those modifications were. "There is so much competition on St. Croix that we were looking at something more viable," he said,
He said the "only question" was how to go about introducing some of the modifications to the amendment. "The best scenario would be for the governor to veto the bill, send it back to the Senate, and not have the Senate override it." Bruno-Vega said.
And Jn Baptiste said Wednesday, "Of course, my best scenario is the director's worst – that the governor will sign my amendment into law."
Though Jn Baptiste said he was "amenable" to some changes in the legislation, he said there is one thing on which he will not waiver: "We must establish an acceptable threshold for economic development on St. Croix."
Bruno-Vega said the legislation should be brought back to the floor in a form in which it could be amended, or modified.
Though Bruno-Vega did not discuss specifically what those modifications would be, it is likely the time restrictions in the original amendment would be done away with. As it reads, WAPA would have little choice but to select Caribbean Energy Resources Corp., which received its PSC certification in February. Though the legislation does not name a specific energy provider, CERC is the only one, which would fulfill the specifications set out in the amendment.
Jn Baptiste said Wednesday, "I am amenable to waiving the time frame. Mr. Bruno-Vega has concerns about the absence of competitive bidding. I think Title 30 speaks clearly to that issue. Nothing there requires competitive bidding. The Public Services Commission has the authority to order WAPA to negotiate."
This issue is currently being hotly debated by WAPA and the PSC. WAPA is in the process of sending out requests for proposals for the purchase of alternative sources of power. This has been an area of contention for WAPA, the PSC and small power providers. Bruno-Vega claims the best way to purchase power, which WAPA is required to do by law, is to go through the bidding process. The PSC claims, however, that WAPA can approach only companies it has already certified. (See "PSC Denies WAPA Petition Concerning Bid Process").
"If we need to amend the law, parties can work together. As long as it holds good potential for St. Croix, we could ask the governor to call a special session to address amendments to the law," Jn Baptiste said.
Jn Baptiste said he has asked Bruno-Vega and the WAPA board to draft legislation now, and not wait until the governor takes action, so that he can review it before it comes before the Senate again.
"I'm prepared to work to see how we can level the playing field, but we have to keep first in mind the goal of bringing to St. Croix economic development by way of capital investment and job creation," he said.
Last week Bruno-Vega accused Jn Baptiste of tailoring the legislation for Caribbean Energy Resources Corp., which received its PSC certification in February.
In an Oct. 1, PSC meeting, Bruno-VEGA had said that Renaissance is the only qualified vendor that could provide energy in the short term.
Though he has said he is amenable to some changes, Jn Baptiste is passionate about legislation. "We have a critical unemployment situation in St. Croix that calls for drastic measures," he said. "The compelling reason for this legislation is to bring St. Croix economic development by way of capital investment and job creation."
Attending the Wednesday meeting, along with Jn Baptiste, were Sens. Jones, Louis Hill, Luther Renee and Usie Richards. Sens. Douglas Canton, Almando "Rocky" Liburd and Ronald Russell sent their representatives.
Hill was the only senator who had voted against the legislation last week, on a 13-1 vote, with Sen. Emmett Hansen II absent.
Hill said Wednesday, "This is the meeting that should have taken place prior to the legislation being proposed. " He added, "However, we are in the state that we are in, and I hope that Sen. Jn Baptiste can work something out with WAPA that will benefit us all."
The legislation is included in the budget bills, which have not yet been sent to Government House, according to Senate President David Jones' office. The governor has 10 days after receipt of the bills, excluding Sundays and holiday, to act on them.
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