Water and Electric Utility

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An autonomous public utility created by Virgin Islands Legislature in 1964, the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA) generates and distributes electricity to approximately 55,000 customers throughout the territory. It also provides desalinated, potable water to 13,000 customers in the major commercial and residential centers of Charlotte Amalie (St. Thomas), Christiansted and Frederiksted (St. Croix) and Cruz Bay (St. John) as well as certain subdivisions.

Electrical service conforms to U.S. standards: 110/220 volts single phase or three phases, 60 cycle AC, making converters commonly required in Europe unnecessary. Currently, WAPA relies exclusively on fuel oil, purchased under contract from the HOVENSA refinery on St. Croix, to power its electric generating units. It operates seven generating units on St. Thomas and six generating units on St. Croix. Customers on St. John are provided power from St. Thomas through underwater cables with back-up power available from an emergency generator.

Because of its reliance on fuel oil and continually escalating crude oil prices worldwide, WAPA’s customer rates are generally higher than in most regions of the United States. Monthly bills will vary according to customer usage and the prevailing Levelized Energy Adjustment Clause (LEAC) factor. The LEAC factor (or fuel factor as it is called in other Caribbean islands and at some mainland utilities) is a customer surcharge that allows WAPA to address increases or decreases in fuel prices. WAPA’s customer rates, as well as adjustments to the LEAC factor, are subject to approval by the Virgin Islands Public Service Commission.

To help its customers cope with fluctuating energy costs, WAPA has embarked on an aggressive customer education and conservation campaign to curb wasteful consumption, encouraging investment in high efficiency appliances, water heaters and lighting. Recognized as an Energy Star Partner of the Year in 2008, the Authority is an active member of the prestigious Energy Star efficiency program created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy and partners with the Virgin Islands Energy Office to provide information and customer-focused services such as net metering. In 2009, WAPA was designated an EDIN (Energy Development in Island Nations) partner,  an international partnership which helps islands across the globe adopt energy efficiency measures and deploy renewable energy technologies. Customers are invited to visit WAPA’s customer service offices or this website for information on no-cost, low-cost energy saving tips. These include:

  • Use ceiling fans to cool rather than air conditioning units
  • Wash clothes in cold water
  • Hang wet towels, swimming suits and other items outside to dry in the sun rather than using an electric dryer
  • Let dishes air dry in the dishwasher rather than use the automatic dryer mode
  • Consider investing in a solar water heater
  • Change out incandescent light bulbs with high efficiency, long-life compact florescent bulbs (CFL) or LED (Light emitting diode) bulbs.

Seeking to reduce its reliance on oil, the nine-member WAPA Governing Board is proactively pursuing alternative energy resources, such as wind and solar, as well as partnerships with potential alternative energy providers.

In recent years, WAPA has invested millions of dollars in upgrading its generating and distribution systems to improve reliability. But because WAPA is not connected to a national grid, as is the case with electric utilities in the mainland United States, periodic power outages may occur. Additionally, the threat of tropical storms and hurricanes from June through November leads many Virgin Islands residents to purchase back-up generators for their homes and businesses.

Because the U.S Virgin Islands have no freshwater resources (except for rainwater), WAPA desalinates seawater for distribution to the most densely populated commercial and residential centers. With approximately 13,000 water customers, WAPA operates desalination units on St. Thomas, St. Croix and on St. John. The Authority also operates reverse osmosis plants. Residents also collect rain water in cisterns attached to their homes or businesses. Recognizing that potable water is one of the most precious resources in the U.S. Virgin Islands, WAPA has taken a lead role in educating its customers about wise water usage as well as energy conservation.