82.1 F
Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, March 28, 2023
HomeNewsArchivesAmendment to Economic Stimulus Act Generating Plenty of Heat

Amendment to Economic Stimulus Act Generating Plenty of Heat

Sept. 1, 2005 — While no progress was made to determine which alternative power producer will supply power to the Water and Power Authority, a lot of heat was generated Wednesday at the Committee of the Whole Senate meeting concerning proposed amendments to the Emergency Job Creation and Economic Stimulus Act of 2005.
Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, sponsor of the bill and first senator to question testifiers, immediately began probing Alberto Bruno-Vega, executive director of WAPA, about the inspector general's report last year alleging that WAPA management was involved in criminal behavior.
Bruno-Vega — an outspoken critic of the bill, saying it was a "special interest" bill designed with only one provider in mind — brushed aside Jn Baptiste's questions, saying no one had been charged.
Jn Baptiste was upset that any amendments to his bill were even being considered. Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson and Senate President Lorraine Berry, however, indicated that when they agreed to vote for the act, they had been promised that there would be an opportunity to amend it.
Testifiers at the 10-hour hearing were broken into three groups. Besides Bruno-Vega, in the first group were Valencio Jackson, chairman of the Public Services Commission; Dave Barber, representing the Department of Labor; Bevan Smith Jr., director of the V.I. Energy Office; and Alex Moorhead, vice-president of Hovensa.
At least Jn Baptiste's questions followed a certain line of inquiry and were directed to specific testifiers.
Several times during the meeting senators made comments irrelevant to the subject of the hearing when they did not have the floor and interrupted those who did have the floor.
Sen. Usie Richards, indicating that it appeared to him that no one was speaking directly to the proposed amendments, called the whole process a Barnum and Bailey Circus. When Senate President Lorraine Berry's turn came she called Richard's comment an insult.
However, the politics aside, senators appeared to learn more about what power providers were offering and how the act would affect their process.
Sen. Roosevelt David said, "This process is critical. The community is learning very important information."
At the end of the meeting, it was moved that the Senate would meet again before Sept. 10 to take action on the proposed amendments.
Myron Allick represented St. Croix Renaissance Group; Frank Wilbourne III represented Antilles Energy Cooperative; and Leslie Emerson represented Caribbean Energy Resources. Those three were in the second group of testifiers. Adriane Dudley was invited to represent Caribe Waste Technologies but did not appear.
Allick said that Renaissance Group had a power plant ready to go, adding that the company had already invested $25 million on St. Croix by buying 1,244 acres of the old Alcoa property. He said Renaissance had been trying to become an alternate source of power to WAPA for over two and a half years. The Renaissance plant would burn coal. He said coal was about one-third the coast of burning oil. He added that it would take other providers six to eight years to get up and running because of the permitting process.
Jn Baptiste questioned each provider to see if they saw his legislation as "special legislation." He also questioned them to determine their position on being required to provide jobs as well as power.
Allick said the method of leverage did preclude some potential providers from participating. Emerson said he did not mind it and that Caribbean Energy Resources is planning to use the power plant as the anchor for several industries. He also promised to create about 700 jobs.
Wilbourne said that he thought it wasn't bad if the job requirement was not too burdensome. His company wants the law changed so Antilles would qualify by providing 200 jobs on St. Croix and 200 jobs on St. Thomas. The law presently calls for the successful power supplier to provide 400 jobs on St. Croix. The three agreed that less than 50 jobs would be created in any new power plant.
Bruno-Vega's main complaint against the bill was that it was "shutting the door" on other companies that might supply power.
He said that if a company was required to create other jobs, those jobs could end up by being subsidized by ratepayers. He pointed out that the bill doesn't even require the alternative power producer to supply the power at a lower rate than WAPA's. He said WAPA, with this bill, could be forced into paying more for energy than it presently does, defeating the goal of bringing WAPA rates down.
Bruno-Vega has said that this act also limits WAPA's ability to wean the public utility from its dependency on oil.
Antilles Energy would generate its power by burning imported biomass and some of the trash at V.I. dumps.
Caribbean Energy Resources, however, would burn petroleum coke, a derivative of oil refining.
The last group of testifiers included Darryl Miller, chairman of St. Croix Alliance to Protect Utility Ratepayers; Hubert Turnbull, president of WAPA's Employees' Association, Local 1602; and Lauritz Mills, director of the Bureau of Economic Research.
Mills said she did not have enough information to predict how the various proposals would affect the V.I. economy.
Turnbull and Miller said the way WAPA does business must be changed.
Turnbull urged wholesale changes in WAPA's governing board and management. He said WAPA's governing board chairman walked around WAPA "spouting nonsense" and bringing in family members and former senators to work. He said the board was cuddled at taxpayer expense during retreats, but yet could not make a quorum when action was necessary.
One of the few positive notes of the meeting was early in the afternoon when the V.I. Energy Office's Bevan Smith Jr. outlined the plans for WAPA to buy energy back from residents who had small energy producing systems installed at their homes and had excess energy. He said he was worried that the act as it is presently written would exclude those small providers.
Sens. Ronald Russell, Juan Figueroa-Serville and Neville James all said they were impressed with that presentation.
Back Talk

Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.