Sept. 5, 2004 On a recent Friday, Darryl Miller was busy trying to organize the upcoming meeting of the newly formed St. Croix Alliance to Protect Utility Ratepayers. He knew his Water and Power Authority bill was due. He meant to pay it, but organizing the meeting distracted him and he forgot. "When I got home they had turned off my lights." Adding a little more darkness to his life was the fact that it would cost him a $100 to turn the power back on because it was after WAPA's regular business hours. He said, "A $100 charge for five minutes work, for them to flip a switch. It didn't seem right."
His tale was one of many told by residents in the auditorium at the St. Croix Educational Complex on Saturday night. One gentleman said that he had lived in a number of apartments, and every time he moved WAPA promised to send him a refund of his deposit, but he had "never received a cent."
Ed Milligan, a customer service representative of WAPA, was among the 50 some residents who attended the meeting. He said, "You should have received your money. We do that on a daily basis." The man responded, "I hope some day, my day will come."
Another woman stated that while her family was gone most of June, they received a $150 power bill and "when we came back and ran the washer and all the other stuff our bill for July was $50."
About an hour and a half into the meeting an audience member said, "We could complain all night. We need to come up with a plan for action." At that time Sen. Usie Richards raised his hand and asked to speak. He said he had come to listen, but he did have advice for the group. He told them to organize and take their complaints to the Public Services Commission.
A short time later, Valencio Jackson, chairman of the PSC, arrived and addressed the group. He told the residents when they didn't get satisfaction from WAPA to "come across the street to the PSC office, our job is to represent you."
One theme that ran through many of the complaints was that no satisfaction was gained at the WAPA office. Miller said, "We go there to get answers. We don't get answers. They say, 'Just pay the bill.'"
The announced intention of Saturday's meeting was to form committees, but three hours rolled by with customers asking questions of WAPA officials. Besides Milligan, Cassandra Dunn, WAPA's public information officer attended the meeting. Jackson also answered questions from the audience and a representative of Sen. Luther Renee read a statement, which said, "Though we must understand that WAPA has no control over the cost of fuel used in the generation of electricity, there are things within WAPAs control that they must do to increase efficiency and help reduce LEAC cost to the consumer."
And, it concluded, "The excessive line losses have unnecessarily cost the ratepayers millions of dollars per year. Recent estimates place the cost of these inefficiencies in excess of $3 million for electric line losses on St. Croix alone."
Miller, with input from the audience, decided to set another meeting two weeks from Saturday in the same place at the same time to organize. That meeting apparently will be to prepare for a meeting with the PSC at the end of September.
Jackson said the PSC had intended to hold its September meeting on St. John but, because of the actions of the group, he was going to move it to St. Croix. He said the meeting would be held in the V.I. Casino Control Commission office in Orange Grove. However, after audience members said all the people they would bring to the meeting would not fit in that small meeting room, he agreed that it too could be held at the Educational Complex.
Jackson suggested the group organize its questions and give them to two people who would address the Commission.
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