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Wednesday, April 24, 2024
HomeNewsLocal newsNew PSC Members Delve into Utility’s Problems

New PSC Members Delve into Utility’s Problems

PSC considers residents giving alternative energy to WAPA and not getting paid. (Submitted photo)

The V.I. Public Services Commission welcomed two new members at its December meeting. The unusual session, two days long, was a baptism by fire.

Water and electric rates were voted on; the Water and Power Authority’s inability to pay its bills was discussed; a hearing was scheduled to determine what the Waste Management Authority would do concerning past due assessment from the PSC; plans to rectify an advance meter infrastructure project that has been called a complete failure were heard; and a motion was made to save the net metering program.

Commissioner Raymond welcomed Clement “Cain” Magras and Laura Nichols-Samms by saying he believed they would bring “a breath of fresh air” to the commission.

Magras jumped into the discussion about the failed Advanced Metering Infrastructure program (AMI). He asked how many homes were now getting estimated bills. Andrew Smith, head of WAPA, said about 13 percent. Magras said that seemed like a low figure. He said he talked to many people whose bills were getting estimated and that his own was.

Samms played a big part in the discussion of trying to clear the bottleneck in the net metering program, a backup in which more than 600 residents are caught. The current net metering program started in 2020. Since then, some residents have been trying to sell energy produced on their rooftops back to WAPA but have not succeeded. Kyle Fleming, director of the Energy Office, said the program had several bottlenecks and recommended that applications for the program be closed until they are cleared. He did not point to any agency as the primary culprit.

However, David Hughes, who chaired the commission meeting, said, “WAPA is the problem.” He told WAPA representatives at the meeting that they should admit it.

At Hughes’s urging, the commission passed a motion directing the commission’s executive director, Sandra Setorie, to investigate possible solutions to the problem. Hughes said he thought smaller systems that would have little effect on the grid and had an approved private metering system might be streamlined through the system.

Hughes said when WAPA gets a new metering system to replace the failed AMI program, it will help resolve the problem. The new meter reading program, lined up for federal funding, would also solve the problem of estimated bills, which residents have claimed are skewed.

The new members were also given an up-close view of WAPA’s financial situation. Government agencies are not paying their bills, and WAPA is not paying its vendors. Waste Management Authority reportedly owes $6.1 million to WAPA. The commission ordered WAPA to pay BMR Donoe Solar and BMR Spanish Town Solar even if it meant not paying other vendors. Hughes said the territory did not want the reputation of not paying its alternative energy suppliers.

Smith said the utility’s collection rate for residential customers is 98 percent. He said that is because WAPA has the leverage to cut off service to a home. Still, it does not have that leverage when faced with a government agency providing “critical service” to the community and not paying its bill.

Smith did report that WAPA has collected $1.6 million because of a new focus. He said WAPA now goes out and looks at meters registering zero use. He said if the meter is at an abandoned building, that is OK, but if there is a building there running air conditioning and lights, “that is a problem.” WAPA will go after that customer for past-due bills.

The commission voted to leave current LEAC rates as they are.

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