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WAPA Discusses Accomplishments and Challenges at Monthly Meeting

(Thursday, October 21, 2010)

The Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority Governing Board held its monthly meeting on St. Croix today and discussed the utility’s most recent accomplishments and some of the challenges still confronting the management team. Hugo, V. Hodge, Jr. the Authority’s Executive Director reported on recent events in St. Thomas’ Randolph E. Harley Plant where generator breakdowns have caused frequent power outages over the last several weeks. “It’s unacceptable,” Hodge said. “We are working towards performing better and we will do better,” Hodge assured board members.

It’s been a cascade of problems, Hodge explained. Unit #23, the plant’s most essential 42-megawatt gas turbine failed several weeks ago, just prior to a scheduled major overhaul. Technicians began the overhaul earlier than scheduled, but an unexpected rotor problem was discovered when repairs were almost complete. The rotor will be sent to New Mexico for analysis and repair on Friday and it will likely be another month before the unit can be put back in service. “We’ll struggle for 3 or 4 more weeks but when it’s done, we’ll be in a better place.” Hodge said.

By that time, technicians will have completed the last 24 hours of radiator work on gas turbine Unit #18, which was pressed quickly into service after its major overhaul was completed and when Unit #23 failed. Gas turbine Unit#15, scheduled for a major overhaul once Unit #23 is up and running, is not operating as reliably as possible and Unit #13 which has a boiler leak will be back on line by the weekend after repairs are completed. “We are operating on a very thin margin.” Hodge said, acknowledging that problems in the Harley plant were partially due to the limited funds for preventive maintenance. Major resources during the past two years were required for the overhaul of equipment in St. Croix’s Richmond power plant in preparation for the installation of the heat recovery steam generator that was dedicated in August. Presently, the St. Croix plant is running at maximum efficiency and reliability and is comparing very favorably as one of the best in the Caribbean region

Even in the midst of St. Thomas’s challenges, Hodge said that very positive things are happening at the Authority, calling Wednesday’s dedication of the state-of-the-art Randolph E. Harley substation, a “very significant day” for the utility. Hodge said that St. Croix will soon have a similar facility when the Richmond substation upgrade now under construction is completed. Another substation at mid-island will be built over the next several years.

Hodge and his team will travel to Puerto Rico next week to attend a kick-off meeting with Seimens, the company selected to undertake a feasibility study for an underwater electric interconnection with Puerto Rico, which has garnered both local, regional, and federal interest and support at the highest levels. Hodge reiterated that it is critical to stabilize WAPA’s base load and to put in place the electronics that would support the renewable energy sources that are planned for WAPA’s future. Chair of the Planning and Economic Development Committee, Atty, Gerald Groner said that it is important that customers know that while WAPA is struggling with some issues, it is still “looking at the big picture”, and figuring out ways to bring other renewable resources into the mix. WAPA will release a request for proposal for solar energy in the coming weeks. Hodge also said that information from ananometers being erected by the Virgin Islands Energy Office with support from the U.S. Department of Energy through the Energy Development in Islands Nations Program and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory will also offer important data for the potential of industrial wind turbines in the territory.

Elisa Sanchez, Civil Engineer II, reported that MIOX Corporation was selected to install a mixed oxidant disinfection system to replace an aging water disinfection system at the Richmond Plant. The advanced technology system will eliminate the need to transport and store potentially dangerous chlorine gas in the plant, and significantly reduce time and labor costs. Sanchez was granted approval to increase project funding by $5,550 in order to include a chlorine analyzer and an injection quill to ensure proper chlorine administration to the system. Sanchez said the injector and the analyzer will be enclosed in a mobile unit that is the first of its kind installed by MIOX and there is much interest in this pilot project throughout the water resources industry. The MIOX products are safely used in over 30 countries for public water systems. The project is funded by a grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of $300,000 and internal funds of $80,828.

In other matters, the Board took the following action:

Approved a change order to RG Engineering in the amount of $100,903.73 and added 137 days to the existing contract for the potable water system expansion and electric duct bank Smith Bay Phase IV project bringing the new contract total to $1,807,308. The project will increase water system revenues in the St. Thomas district and improve electric system reliability for St. John

Approved payment of assessments to the Public Services Commission in the amount of $693,502 which includes an annual assessment of $623,261 representing WAPA’s portion, or 41.55% of the PSC’s annual operating budget of $1.5 million; $600,000 on Docket 289, matters related to the Levelized Energy Adjustment Clause; $2,241 and $8,000 respectively for the electric and water rate cases reviewed in 2009.

Approved an extension of a contract for 90 days with Asplundh Tree Expert Company in an amount not to exceed $211,619, for tree trimming services throughout the territory. The total three-year contract totals $3,539,905.

In executive session, Board members discussed personnel and legal issues and reported out that they had approved parameters for negotiation of a FY2011 wage increase with the Virgin Islands Workers Union, which represents supervisory personnel.

Attending were Juanita R. Young, Board Chair, Brenda Benjamin, Vice Chair, Noel Loftus, Secretary and Finance Committee Chair, Atty. General Groner, Planning Committee Chair, Cheryl Boynes Jackson, V.I. Personnel Director Kenneth Hermon, Jr., Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Wayne Biggs, and Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Robert Mathes. Member Donald Francois was absent.