May 15, 2007 — The talent and ability of the territory's public utility workers has reached a new high, and could be even more effective if the Public Services Commission butted out, the man at the helm of the V.I. Water and Power Authority said Tuesday.
Alberto Bruno-Vega, WAPA's soon-to-be ex-executive director, said the PSC's over-regulation amounts to too many cooks in the kitchen.
"We're constantly crashing against them," he said. "It's really a waste of time and a waste of money. You're talking about a waste of millions of dollars."
In most states, bodies like the PSC regulate privately owned utilities to ensure they don't charge unfair rates, Bruno-Vega said. But in the Virgin Islands, he said, they have their fingers in the government pie.
"Here in the Virgin Islands, for one reason or another, the Legislature saw fit that the rates fall under this regulatory commission; and to a certain degree that's fine. The problem is that the commission has interpreted that power as they can control everything about WAPA."
WAPA has a governing board, selected by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, just like the PSC. So why should two almost identical bodies govern, or misgovern, a public utility, Bruno-Vega asked.
"(WAPA's board) represents the people. If they aren't doing a good job, throw them away," he said. "They should be allowed to do their job."
Bruno-Vega complained the PSC has misinterpreted its purpose — meddling in almost all of WAPA's affairs, rather than just regulating prices.
The outcome, he said, is constant lawsuits and bickering. "This is bureaucracy at its best. And the sad part about it is that the people are hurting. The time has come for people of the Virgin Islands to trust themselves."
But Bruno-Vega has clashed with government red tape before.
He spent years trying to reduce the territory's reliance on expensive and ecologically unfriendly fossil fuels, pushing a switch to renewable energies.
Time after time, he and other advocates of wind, solar and other alternative power sources ran into roadblocks in the Senate, Government House or the PSC, he said.
"It was a back-and-forth thing. It was a big waste of time. We could be way advanced by now; but you know, bygones be bygones," he said.
This time around, WAPA has hired Boston Pacific Consulting Group to ensure non-fossil fuel companies, endorsed by local and federal assessments, are selected to bid on building energy infrastructure in the territory.
By sticking to federal and locally endorsed industries backed by a leading consultant group, Bruno-Vega hopes local politicians can finally agree on ending fuel-oil dependence.
But Bruno-Vega will surely be gone by then.
He's returning to his native Puerto Rico to resume a role with the island's largest electrical and construction company, Bermudez and Longo.
His last day at WAPA is a little more than two weeks away — May 31.
Bruno-Vega first joined WAPA in July of 1989, just months before Hurricane Hugo destroyed much of the Virgin Islands' infrastructure.
"Hugo was my inauguration," he said.
Bruno-Vega said he ends his second stint at WAPA — he also served from 1989 to 1995 — with the utility in prime shape. Talented engineers are receiving state-of-the-art training, and the office environment is better than ever.
"You never feel like you accomplish everything. But I'm very satisfied that there is a team spirit within WAPA," he said. "These young engineers, they are growing up pretty fast."
The renewed expertise emphasizes WAPA's need to control its own affairs, he said.
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