May 14, 2005 – Alberto Bruno-Vega, chief executive officer of the Water and Power Authority, has spent innumerable hours testifying before the Public Services Commission on WAPA's repeated requests to increase the levelized energy adjustment clause surcharge on customers' electric bills.
The so-called LEAC surcharge is tied to the costs of fuel the utility must buy to operate its electricity-generating plants. Those costs in turn are tied to the world market price of oil. By law, the PSC is to review the surcharge rate twice a year, basing any adjustment on fuel costs for the preceding six months. The price of oil has been climbing steadily a fact brought home by pump prices at gas stations locally and across the nation.
On May 10, Bruno-Vega took his message to the public in a half-hour program that aired on TV2. That program will be rebroadcast at 5 p.m. Sunday, according to a WAPA release issued on Friday.
"During the half-hour program, Bruno-Vega addresses public concerns about the recently approved LEAC increase and also details his presentation to the Public Services Commission on Tuesday, May 4," the release stated. (See "PSC Approves WAPA Fuel Surcharge Increase".)
At that hearing, he said WAPA had experienced the "under-recovery" of about $14.8 million in fuel costs because of sharp increases not reflected in the surcharge.
It also was brought out at the May 4 hearing that the utility is experiencing power losses of 8 percent in the St. Thomas-St. John district and 17 percent on St. Croix — due to both line theft and technical reasons, according to Bruno-Vega. The PSC approved an increase in the LEAC surcharge, but gave the authority 31 days in which to submit a schedule for reducing the line losses, or see the surcharge increase revoked.
The taped television program "is an attempt to present the authority's case to the public and to clarify ratepayers' concerns about this very serious matter which affects us all," Bruno-Vega said in the WAPA release.
Meanwhile, a senator expects the WAPA chief executive to appear at a hearing on Monday to give testimony on the same subject.
The Government Operations Committee is scheduled to meet at the unusual hour of 4 p.m. Monday on St. Thomas for what Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, its chair, described in a Thursday release as "a public hearing on the recent increase in rates granted" to WAPA. Malone said he expects Bruno-Vega to "explain to the public why requests for rate increases seem to be made every few months."
Malone is one of two senators who serve as non-voting members of the Public Services Commission, which has heard Bruno-Vega testify on the topic numerous times. Malone said he also has invited the other PSC members, PSC consultants and members of WAPA's governing board to take part in the hearing, which he said is "to grasp a comprehensive understanding of the issue and to hear from concerned ratepayers."
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