Talk about the Water and Power Authority has been widespread online, in the press, on the radio and behind the closed doors of Virgin Islands households. Governor Albert Bryan Jr. said Monday recent WAPA blackouts have affected the entire V.I. economy, the education system, the health care system, as well as all residents individually.
Discussion about WAPA will be continuing. Bryan announced at a press conference that the upcoming week will be a big one for the utility company, which will be appearing before the Public Services Commission on Thursday and the Senate on Tuesday.
Bryan said anyone who has lived in the Virgin Islands for any length of time has known WAPA to be an issue but “the good news is WAPA has an unprecedented opportunity to really transform power generation and the way that we know power in the Virgin Islands.”
Indicative of the changes WAPA is undergoing are the many projects Bryan said have been announced recently: the completion of the Water Island utility pole project, four new generation units that will be added to WAPA’s inventory, Coral Bay and Cruz Bay projects which add power generation and battery backup for the island of St. John and the net metering project.
“All of these things complement a $600 million investment into our infrastructure for our energy, allowing WAPA to diversify their energy generation by not only having smaller units but now looking to be able to have solar farms,” Bryan said.
Bryan stressed to the public that WAPA is a tremendous priority for the government. He said from the inception of hurricane recovery money being allotted, the government wanted to make sure the Virgin Islands has a power company that can produce reliable and affordable power.
While Bryan said the recent outages are frustrating, he also said the vision for WAPA ten years from now is one of a renewable energy company.
“We think we have found the problem,” Bryan said.
Bryan added that after working with the New York Power Authority WAPA has been able to isolate one of the problems linked to the supply of fuel for a generation unit. He added that particular unit was fixed and though there were power outages over the weekend, they were scheduled outages in order to do maintenance.
Because the main part of the problem is solved, now residents should see more reliable power, Bryan said, however other issues still need to be addressed in “the canyon of challenges” WAPA has.
Bryan said he hopes WAPA will soon be able to go to the bond market which will help the utility fiscally and will result in lower rates for consumers. He added there are three different possibilities that the government and WAPA are working on in terms of debt that can ultimately put WAPA in a better cash flow position.
In addition to addressing WAPA concerns, Bryan also discussed budgets Monday, mentioning that Sept. 30 is the last day of the Mapp-Potter fiscal year budget.
“This is the first time in a very long time that we can say we finished this year with no budget deficit. As a matter of fact, we may have even closed out the year with a slight surplus,” Bryan said.
Revenues are up in the Virgin Islands and the outlook is bright, Bryan said. He announced that there has been an uptick in gross receipts by 20 to 30 percent over last year’s earnings.
Bryan also said paying back tax refunds is a huge priority. He ensured residents those bills are being paid, though eight percent of taxpayers are still owed.
The upcoming budget, which starts Oct. 1, is all about paying down debt and paying bills, said Bryan.
“I’m really proud today of the fact … that we are managing funds that are making it to where we are able to come out of this year at a surplus,” Bryan said.