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WAPA Board Funds Smart Grid

The V.I. Water and Power Authority voted Thursday to approve buying communications equipment for a territorywide Wireless Field Area Network communications system to supplement WAPA’s fiber network and smart grid infrastructure.

“WAPA is deploying a series of automation programs including advanced metering infrastructure for both the electric and water systems," WAPA Executive Director Hugo Hodge Jr. said in a statement.

"Although WAPA’s fiber network is fairly extensive and is the preferred choice of communications to field area sites, many of the sites that require communications backhaul are located up to five miles from fiber splice points, making the incremental cost to extend fiber to the site prohibitive,” Hodge said.

He said deploying a wireless network will reduce the costs to access these sites. The board authorized a contract of $1.2 million with ABB to develop the wireless field area network communication system for St. Thomas.

WAPA manager Neil Vanterpool said to date WAPA has about 19,000 smart meters required on St. Thomas – about 95 percent of those planned – and will be deploying the new Tantalus meters on St. John and St. Croix in April and May.

Vanterpool presented an overview of the network WAPA is developing to increase both efficiency and automation of the electric grid. He displayed smart meters and other equipment that are part of the infrastructure.

“As we develop the system, there will be a time when our customers can log on to a website and actually track their consumption, hour by hour. We are that confident that once completed, our ratepayers will have every confidence that they are receiving the electrical power they are paying for,” Vanterpool said in response to a board member’s question.

He also addressed the safety attributes of the new smart meters. “Smart meter radios communicate in very short bursts lasting just a few seconds. In fact, on average, 90 percent of the time, they do not emit any radio frequency,” he said. These meters give off less RF than your average cellular phone, microwave oven or home computer.

Vanterpool also debunked another myth about the smart meters. “The smart meters cannot spy on the ratepayers nor can they compile any personal information of the ratepayer and retransmit that data. There are simply no devices within the smart meter than can do that,” he said.

In other actions Thursday, the board authorized Hodge to obtain excess liability coverage from April 1, 2015 through April 1, 2016. WAPA selected from a field of five that responded to a request for proposals, according to the statement from the authority.

The $1.2 million premium with Theodore Tunick and Company provides a one-year option to renew at the authority’s discretion. The new insurance coverage represents a savings over last year’s premium of $1.4 million.

The board also authorized Hodge to obtain property insurance coverage for March 31, 2015, through March 31, 2016, at a cost of $1.62 million. The coverage is with Wortham Insurance and includes a one-year option to renew at WAPA’s discretion. The premium for last year’s property insurance coverage was in excess of $2.1 million. In both instances, the insurance contracts represent a savings for WAPA.

Board members present Thursday included Gerald Groner, Marvin Pickering, Gustav James, Juanita Young, Elizabeth Armstrong, Cheryl Boynes-Jackson and Noel Loftus. Board member Donald Francois was absent.

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