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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, July 25, 2024
HomeCommentaryOp-edOp-ed: Solutions to WAPA Cannot Wait

Op-ed: Solutions to WAPA Cannot Wait

Water and Power Authority on St. Croix.
Water and Power Authority on St. Croix. (File photo)

The constant WAPA power outages are demoralizing people and businesses. The psychic toll is heavy. The sense of security we come to expect in our daily lives is eroding as outages strike at the most inconvenient time effecting family life, social functions, the work place environment, customer and visitor experiences.

Most people now have surge protectors on all appliances and at their businesses. However, that is often not enough to protect sensitive electronic equipment. I do not know anyone who has not lost expensive appliances that got fried or business equipment, computer boards, myself included.

Everyone seems to agree it’s worse than it’s ever been as far as frequency and duration of outages. Saturday’s loss of capacity in the St. Thomas / St. John district has brought that home to residents and visitors for the umpteenth time.

The other catastrophic factor in this ugly equation is that residents and businesses are already struggling to pay the existing exorbitantly high utility bills. We deserve affordable and reliable power and we receive neither.

The governor, at a recent economic forum meeting, stated the importance of achieving affordable, efficient and reliable service — something we all agree with. But what’s the road map to get there with accountability?

He also announced that all outstanding government debt to WAPA as of July 30th has been paid. This is fiscally commendable, and a historic action which certainly will help the utility’s monthly cash flow.

If we want prosperity, economic growth, job creation and expanded tax revenues, we must solve the energy crisis. Investment and economic growth will not happen in an environment of crushingly high utility costs accompanied by daily and weekly power outages lasting for many hours.

The WAPA tax ripples through every sector of our society and raises costs from a bag of groceries to everyday living expenses for our families. The current high rates have increased poverty in our community and devoured family disposable income. The elderly on fixed income are most vulnerable.

Having recently looked at the WAPA financials with its dwindling customer base, falling revenues, and staggering debt load well over 500 million (some say 700), with large bond obligations coming due soon, it seems unlikely that WAPA can dig its self out of the fiscal hole by passing any future rate increases. Nor will the government’s paying its bill monthly stave off the inevitable.

Without a meaningful restructuring of the short- and long-term debt, WAPA will approach insolvency, which is what occurred with the Puerto Rico utility company currently undergoing a bankruptcy reorganization.

We are in crisis and Virgin Islanders are suffering and living it daily as a result of the negative impact WAPA has had on the quality of lives, our pocketbooks and business accounts.

One recent editorialist and PSC commission member recently floated the idea of using the community development block grant recovery funds and reassigning them to mitigate WAPA revenue shortfalls for a two-year period.

Essentially giving WAPA a bridge loan and sufficient working capital to make it through the next few years without further rate increases. Breathing room while the hotels come back on the grid and the $690 million dollars of promised FEMA money is used to stabilize WAPA’s infrastructure, and purchase more reliable and efficient generating units. It’s a creative idea which should be seriously considered by the governor and senate for feasibility now.

Political platitudes will not solve the current problem. The executive and legislative branches need to engage cooperatively in a serious comprehensive manner before it’s too late and WAPA implodes.

The governor campaigned hard on “Change Course Now.” With respect to WAPA, it should be the highest priority to change course for the well-being of our community and for the health of our economy.

I would implore our elected officials and governor: do not kick this can down the road for the sake of all Virgin Islanders.

Editor’s note: Filippo Cassinelli runs A.H. Riise Mall on St. Thomas, which has been in his family since 1928.

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