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WAPA Board Lays Out Energy- and Money-Saving Strategies

V.I. Water and Power Authority staff and board members got into the nitty-gritty Thursday of the utility’s plans to boost energy efficiency and cut the territory’s dependence on oil, discussing everything from a potential partnership with the V.I. Energy Office to what kind of impact their initiatives are going to have on consumers’ pocketbooks.
The first order of business was figuring out a way for the authority to pay for a little more than $5 million in expenses — mostly consultant and legal fees — that have piled up since the authority began its quest for a local small-power provider in 2007. The board decided Thursday to petition the Public Services Commission to put in place a mechanism to recover the cost, which officials said might be put through the Levelized Energy Adjustment Clause (LEAC).
"The LEAC is really the best place to do it, because then it doesn’t add another separate charge on residents’ bills," WAPA Chief Financial Officer Nellon Bowry said after Thursday’s board meeting on St. Thomas.
The figure doesn’t include any of the money WAPA has shelled out throughout the process, or any costs that might arise when the PSC meets Monday to consider a petition filed by two local civic groups challenging WAPA’s deal with Alpine Energy for the construction of waste-to-energy facilities in both districts.
Based on the board’s decision, the cost would be spread out over 42 months at a rate of $0.0019 per kilowatt hour, which would add another $1 to the average residential customer’s monthly utility bill.
Or not. In a surprise turn of events, board members emerged from an hour-long executive session with another solution they said might cancel out the increase.
Since fiscal year 1998, WAPA has been required to pay a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) fee as an annual contribution to the V.I. government. The fee, which is essentially funded through a surcharge tacked onto residents’ power bills, amounts to $500,000 per year, or 10 percent of the authority’s revenues.
Starting in 2003, the surcharge turned into a revenue stream, which has netted an extra $4.4 million for the authority. That "overpayment," as officials called it, is supposed to pass through to the consumer and can therefore be applied to the $5 million, leaving only a small difference to be recovered.
"I mean it still depends on what the PSC decides to do — nothing’s been approved yet," Glenn Rothgeb, WAPA’s chief operating officer, said after the meeting. "But we thought it would be better since this can offset the whole thing."
On St. Croix, another potential money-saving tool—the waste-heat recovery boiler—is about to go online, and WAPA board members decided Thursday the time was right to petition the PSC for a surcharge to cover the cost of debt service on bonds floated to finance the project.
Following recommendations made by PSC consultants during a recent rate investigation, the surcharge would be folded into the base rate and, if approved, would go into effect in January. The proposed rate is $0.0022 per kilowatt hour, which would add another $1.10 per month to the average residential power bill.
But once the boiler comes online, customers won’t be feeling the pinch, WAPA Executive Director Hugo Hodge Jr. said Thursday. "The expected savings is something like $6.36 a month, so the customer will actually come out ahead," he said.
Still in the works is a partnership between WAPA and the V.I. Energy Office that will help carry out a legislative mandate to put solar water heaters in all new constructed buildings throughout the territory. Through the Revolving Loan Program, WAPA will serve as the conduit for residents shopping for solar water heaters, but who may not be able to afford the equipment.
The program gives vendors certified by the Energy Office an instant rebate to cover a portion of the equipment costs, then directs the customer to the Economic Development Authority, which will finance the rest, leaving the customer to pay off the debt from the savings they’ll be earning on their monthly power bills.
The program would initially cater to residential and small commercial customers.
Hodge also discussed:
-Working with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to become an energy service company that would initially help government agencies monitor their energy consumption and become more energy efficient;
– Revamping the process through which WAPA monitors its units and how dependable they are so that officials can do a better job of forecasting how much oil will be needed to power them; and
– Meetings held over the past few days with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to begin working out the logistics of running one or more underwater cables that would interconnect the territory, Puerto Rico and British Virgin Islands.
Board members wrapped up Thursday’s meeting by announcing one more money-saving initiative, which would give commercial customers — including government agencies — 90 days to work out a payment plan for their overdue bills, or risk having their power cut.
"It’s the financially prudent thing to do," WAPA board chairwoman Juanita Young said after the meeting. "There’s no need to jeopardize everybody for a few delinquent apples."
Board members present were Wayne L. Biggs, Cheryl Boynes-Jackson, Donald Francois, Gerald Groner, Kenneth Hermon, Noel Loftus and Young. Board members Brenda Benjamin and Robert Mathes participated via videoconference from St. Croix.

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