Government Working to Avoid Energy Blackouts

Government House Communications Director Richard Motta answered reporters’ questions Monday about WAPA and the refinery. (Source file photo)

Government House Communications Director Richard Motta was hit with question after question from reporters Monday about Vitol, the Water and Power Authority’s primary fuel supplier, and its intention to suspend delivery of propane to the territory. But he had few answers.

Speaking at the weekly Government House press briefing, Motto said “rolling blackouts” were the “worst case scenario” and that everyone was working to avoid that. He said Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. had met with Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett in the morning to discuss the issue. He added that WAPA Executive Director Andy Smith was not in that meeting but has been involved in ongoing discussions about the issue.

Smith has told the Source that fuel payments are not the problem. The territory is current on its bills. Instead, the back and forth between WAPA and Vitol hinges on payment owed for infrastructure Vitol helped bankroll in 2014 and 2016.

Plaskett referred to that situation in a recent press release. She said WAPA and the government attempted to bring down costs by embarking on a propane conversion project.  She continued, “Unfortunately, the company that we partnered with, Vitol, and the resulting relationship with them has proven to be an unbalanced, problematic one.”

The project exceeded initial projections by $92 million in unapproved change orders, along with many other cost increases and contract amendments. The V.I. Inspector General, in a report earlier this year, questioned the legality of certain aspects of the contract.

Further in Plaskett’s release, she said, “Now almost 10 years later, despite WAPA remaining on propane costs, Vitol continues to extract what would appear to be usury rates on the conversion project debt and holds hostage propane and use of the facility (that is near impossible for the V.I. Government to own because of the outrageous cost).”

Motta told the reporters at Monday’s press briefing that he could not get into the specifics of what was discussed by Plaskett and Bryan at the morning meeting. Motta did say he thought the issues might be subject to interpretation.

“The vendor wants to be made whole. How they interpret being made whole is the issue,” he said.

Motta was also questioned about St. Croix’s oil refinery, Port Hamilton Refining and Transportation, which recently was notified by the Environmental Protection Agency it needed to acquire a new Clean Air Act permit before restarting operations at the refinery. Motta said the refinery was not operating presently.

Plaskett says she has met with the EPA concerning the requirement and has been assured that the EPA’s primary concern is the health of Virgin Islanders. She added, “Our office understands that the new permit would require detailed air quality analyses and the use of the best available air pollution control technology.”

She concluded in one of her recent press releases that the problems concerning fossil fuel power generation should be a motivator in the territory’s effort to switch to alternative energy. WAPA is seeking to have a large solar farm on St. Croix.