Feb. 19, 2004 – While big improvements are in the St. Thomas/St. John electrical pipeline, the Water and Power Authority could find itself in a "very tight spot," should a couple of its St. Thomas generating units go down before the improvements are complete, the utility's chief executive said at a joint St. John town meeting and WAPA board meeting Thursday in Cruz Bay.
Alberto Bruno-Vega, WAPA's executive director, told the gathering in the Legislature Building that the authority has a maximum production capacity of 146.1 megawatts. If its two largest units go down, he said, capacity is reduced to 86.3 megawatts.
Power customers are expected to consume electricity at the level of 83 megawatts during the rest of calendar year 2004, but demand is projected to rise to 85.5 megawatts in 2005 and to 88.1 megawatts in 2006. Without the improvements in the works, demand would exceed production in another two years, he said.
To prevent that from happening — as well as to improve reliability and reduce line losses — WAPA is in the midst of a major expansion to improve electric service both on St. John and on St. Thomas. At the heart of the project will be a new $17.6 million gas turbine now being built in France. It will have the capacity to produce 39 megawatts of power, Bruno-Vega said, and it should be on line by October.
Once it's up and running, WAPA will install a loop system that will prevent the entire grid from shutting down when there is a problem on a line. "The system will continue to operate as if nothing happened," Bruno-Vega said. "You will see just a flicker of your light."
He also described other improvements in the works:
– Construction of a $5.1 million "breaker and a half" substation at the Randolph E. Harley Plant in Krum Bay on St. Thomas, to replace a dilapidated existing substation.
– Construction of a $2.9 million substation adjacent to WAPA's water plant on St. John that should be finished in May. The utility cannot send power via submarine cable at full capacity until the substation is operational, Bruno-Vega said.
– Improvements worth $584,000 to the East End substation on St. Thomas that will link up with the two submarine cables connecting St. Thomas to St. John.
– Replacement of one of the St. Thomas-St. John cables at a cost of $1.9 million, with work to begin in early March. "The one from Cabrita Point is in sad shape," Bruno-Vega said.
He said WAPA plans to keep St. John's Silver Arrow generator available for use in emergencies but is looking at alternative ways to improve St. John's emergency electrical supply. The Silver Arrow can power only Cruz Bay.
In response to a question from Harry Daniel, one of about half a dozen residents who showed up for the town meeting, Bruno-Vega said that installing a second generating unit adjacent to the Silver Arrow could cause environmental problems due to its emissions.
"St. John is environmentally a Zone 1 — a pristine area — and to get a license and permit for a generating unit would take a lot of convincing," he said.
WAPA also expects to improve St. John's water distribution, by installing a submarine pipeline to transport water from St. Thomas. However, Bruno-Vega said, funding is an issue. WAPA expected $2.5 million from the St. John Capital Improvement Fund, but the money has not materialized.
Therefore, he said, WAPA is having to fund the pipeline, and at the moment it doesn't have the $2.4 million needed to finishing bringing it through St. Thomas's East End to Red Hook.
"It could be the submarine water pipe to nowhere," Bruno-Vega said, alluding to the Public Works Department's so-called "bridge to nowhere" in Estate Nadir on St. Thomas that after years has yet to be connected to roadways on either end.
Bruno-Vega also announced that by the end of April WAPA will be moving its Cruz Bay office, currently located above Connections, to the Lumberyard shopping complex. And he said the utility should have an interactive Web site functioning by June 1 that will allow customers to pay their bills and keep tabs on their water and power consumption online.
In response to a question from Joan Thomas, he said that WAPA plans to streamline the way it deals with private water haulers by issuing them key cards to activate the St. John standpipe. Currently, trucks can't take on water unless the WAPA office is open.
At the WAPA board meeting that followed, the board agreed to fund a handful of improvements. The meeting went smoothly except for the abrupt departure of board member Roy Anduze, who stormed out after a procedural wrangle with the chair, Daryl Lynch. To save time, Anduze wanted information included in Planning and Economic Development Committee reports referenced to the reports when motions are made. Lynch wanted the information spelled out.
"You're wasting my time," Anduze told Lynch before leaving.
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