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WAPA Heat-Recovery Boiler Back On Line on St. Thomas

Sept. 7, 2008 — Greater reliability and efficiency were the goals Sunday morning as the V.I. Water and Power Authority flipped the switch to start the newly refurbished St. Thomas heat-recovery boiler, which is projected to save the authority $18 million a year.
The boiler, which uses the steam generated by waste heat from the gas-turbine generators to run other generators without any additional fuel use, has been out of commission since June.
WAPA reprogrammed bond proceeds to get the recovery unit up and running six months earlier than planned, thus saving $9 million in fuel costs, said Hugo Hodge, the authority's executive director.
The savings will help, he said, with making up for the $40 million in under recovery of the levelized energy-adjustment clause (LEAC) the authority has been juggling for months. It will also bring the authority to 100-percent capacity on water production, eliminating by the end of the week the water-rationing program that's been going on for months.
Greg Rhymer, WAPA chief operating officer, said he hopes to have all the units running properly over the next few months. He expects routine maintenance soon to replace the emergency-management mode the authority has been in for awhile.
Hodge was optimistic about WAPA's ongoing increase in reliability with the heat-recovery boiler back on line and its receipt — also on Sunday — of the rotor needed to repair Unit 12.
He was less optimistic about the public's understanding of how the LEAC works.
The LEAC surcharge has driven fuel bills sky high, forcing businesses to close and residents to suffer dramatic increases in their monthly charges.
The money collected under the LEAC goes directly to fuel costs, Hodge said Sunday for the umpteenth time.
"We have more conspiracy theorists here than anywhere else in the world," said Hodge, a native son who returned from the mainland less than a year ago to take the helm of the authority.
But he thinks at least the Public Services Commission, the authority's regulatory body, now gets it.
"They finally got it, I think, after they saw the letter from Hovensa," he said Sunday.
The refinery on St. Croix that provides fuel for WAPA recently tightened the financial reins on the authority, forcing it to pay in full two days in advance of all deliveries and charging the cash-strapped power company to pay prime interest rates on overdue balances.
Hodge presented Hovensa's letter, which came to WAPA shortly after the contract between the two companies expired, to PSC commissioners at a meeting Aug. 22, after which they relented to the authority's request for an increase in the LEAC.
But even with the increase, one third of the LEAC still goes to cover the under recovery from the PSC's failure to allow past LEAC increases.
Despite the almost constant criticism of the authority on talk-radio shows, in letters to the editor and elsewhere, and the need for WAPA staff to work almost around the clock some weeks, employee morale is good, Rhymer said.
"They feel the public pressure and the misunderstanding" and it motivates them to work even harder, Rhymer said, adding that he came to work at 7:45 a.m. Friday and didn't leave until Saturday afternoon.
Along with not understanding that the LEAC has no effect on the authority's bottom line, the general public also doesn't understand that the authority is fully high tech, Hodge believes.
In terms of increased efficiency, Hodge said,WAPA has software that simulates all the authority's systems and then analyzes how to make the processes most efficient.
In the control room, Robert Laware, first-class operator, watches a computer screen that shows how the recovery boiler is functioning. He can control the operation from his desk.
Hodge gets messages about plant operations on his cell phone.
Increased efficiency and reliability will not, however, have any immediate affect on consumers' bills. But, according to Hodge, it will in the long run, since it will reduce fuel costs to the authority.
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