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Monday, February 6, 2023
HomeNewsLocal governmentWAPA Generators on Island, Installation 75 Percent Complete, According to Officials

WAPA Generators on Island, Installation 75 Percent Complete, According to Officials

Transformer pictured as WAPA personnel moved Wartsila components from the Crown Bay Homeport Dock through Subbase to the Randolph Harley Power Plant on June 4. (WAPA photo)

In the wake of a congressional inquiry on the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority’s use of federal funds, Delegate Stacey Plaskett and WAPA officials are speaking out, saying in separate statements Thursday that the claims of delays and mismanagement are false.

Four U.S. Congressmen published a letter Tuesday afternoon calling for the Department of Housing and Urban Development to investigate how WAPA spent $75 million in grant money meant to get new power generators online after the hurricanes of 2017. The focus of the argument is that the project is behind schedule, though WAPA officials, as recently as October shared the project is tracking to be complete in March 2023.

“The procurement of these generators was announced more than two years ago, and were ‘slated to be fully operational in early 2022,’ yet these units are still not operational,” the letter reads, quoting a WAPA press release.

In a statement Thursday, Plaskett highlighted her concerns, among them, factual errors in the inquiry launched by four Republican representatives.

“I find it concerning that these members are requesting an investigation pertaining to WAPA’s acquisition and installation of four Wartsila generators, particularly since none of them have shown any interest or concern regarding our territory at any point,” Plaskett said. “If these colleagues of mine are as concerned as they expressed in the letter, which contained a number of glaring fallacies (i.e., the Randolph Harley power plant is actually on St. Thomas and not on St. Croix, as the letter incorrectly states), the House Oversight Committee, of which they are members, has specific processes in place to obtain necessary information and push agencies and recipients to use funds appropriately.”

Plaskett added that the statement of there not being a timeline for the units coming online is false.

“Not only has WAPA’s CEO Andrew Smith made numerous public statements about the generators coming online in March of 2023, but the initial term sheet and timeline discussed for the integrated resource plan for these generators made during the previous administration (2019) estimated almost two years to integration, and that forecast did not account for the delays that were inevitably created by the pandemic,” Plaskett said.

In a separate statement Thursday, WAPA shared similar sentiments.

“The notice to proceed for the new generator project was issued in Nov. 2020 and was set to expire 23 months later, or at the end of Oct. 2022. This period was recently extended through January 2023 upon approval by the Authority’s governing board. The project was delayed in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic that, worldwide, caused supply chain and other delays, but the generators are installed and Wartsila is in the process of finishing installation of environmental controls. The Authority has shared publicly that it expects the generators to be placed in service by the first quarter of 2023. The Authority noted recently that it has received an accelerated timeline from Wartsila that could see the generators in service in January 2023; however, there are several gating factors that need to be cleared to meet the accelerated timeline. The timeline for the project, even with the delays, is not unusual for the installation of generation,” according to the statement.

Further refuting claims that the project has not been monitored, WAPA officials said, “The Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority has overseen the Wartsila project from its inception and has worked closely with the authority to overcome project-related challenges and ensure timely delivery. VIHFA has continued to work with both the authority and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to monitor the project for compliance with federal regulations and has worked hand-in-hand with all partners to assist in meeting requirements and ensuring timely delivery. All major milestones within the project timeline have also continued to be documented on both sides, per federal requirements, to show how funds are spent, tracked, and managed.”

According to WAPA, the four new generators are 30 percent and 70 percent more efficient than the units they will displace. “Additionally, one of the units that will be displaced runs on diesel, and diesel is currently 2.2 times more expensive than propane. Monthly fuel savings, at current commodity prices, when the new Wartsila generators enter service is projected to be approximately $3.5 million per month, or $42 million per year. That savings represents an almost 25 percent reduction in the authority’s annual cost of fuel. Battery storage will improve reliability because batteries work like a shock absorber and can insulate the Authority’s system from operational disruptions,” the statement said.

Plaskett said she believes the inquiry may be motivated by public interest groups “assisting their own pecuniary interests by being destructive to the people of the Virgin Islands.”

“I urge Virgin Islanders to do their own research on this issue and others in our community. Let us be certain that the information we acquire and share is fact-based and not perpetuated propaganda,” the Delegate said.

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