WAPA electric system personnel are reviewing data logs of the utility’s generating units to determine the root cause of a 12-hour outage Friday that affected all customers of the St. Thomas-St. John District, said interim Executive Director Noel Hodge.
Electric service was restored to all customers in the district at approximately 11:20 a.m. on Friday, June 18, capping an hours-long service interruption that began late Thursday, according to a press release issued Friday night by Jean Greaux Jr., WAPA’s director of corporate communications.
“While it will take a few days to fully determine and understand the cause of the outage, WAPA officials suspect that a large generating unit tripped and affected the functionality of three smaller units, which resulted in a districtwide outage impacting service to all customers on St. Thomas, St. John, Water Island and Hassel Island,” the press release stated.
At the Randolph Harley Power Plant Friday morning, Hodge said electric system personnel have already begun to review data logs of the units dispatched at the time of the outage to pinpoint exactly what went wrong. “It is part of our established protocols to identify the root cause of the outage, better understand what caused the interruption and how we can avoid a future reoccurrence,” he said in the release.
Plant personnel worked all night Thursday and well into Friday morning to overcome operational challenges with several generating units. “Our goal was to get at least two units at full capacity to restore service to the affected customers,” Hodge said. He said several WAPA power production employees from the Estate Richmond Power Plant on St. Croix were flown to St. Thomas Friday morning to assist with the recovery of the power plant.
“Personnel faced a myriad of issues as they attempted to rebuild generation capacity at the power plant. It was after 9 a.m. Friday when Units 14 and 23 were successfully brought online to restore service,” said Hodge.
Hodge said he does not anticipate any other associated outages resulting from the service interruption. At midday Friday, WAPA’s largest generator, Unit 23, its three propane-fired smaller generators and two other units, 14 and 27, were dispatched to meet the power demand of customers in the district, the release stated.
“We thank the public for its understanding, and I thank my employees at team WAPA, some who had been on the job for almost 30 hours, for their untiring efforts and dedication in getting electrical service restored to our customers,” said Hodge.
The power failure prompted the usual outrage on Facebook from frustrated customers and admonitions from Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory on behalf of the 34th Legislature.
“I joined this institution in the 33rd Legislature and there have been meetings, hearings, and legislation vetted to address the issues at the authority,” Frett-Gregory said in a press release Friday. “Our attempts to address the matter legislatively were vetoed at the end of the 33rd, those measures were reintroduced in the 34th, and the Governor, in his wisdom, vetoed the measures,” she said, referring to senators’ efforts to give the Public Services Commission regulatory powers over WAPA.
Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. said the bill was legislative overreach, and the Fitch Ratings agency cited the bill in its decision to put the utility on a negative ratings watch in May.
Friday’s prolonged outage followed shorter power failures Thursday, including one on St. Thomas and three on St. Croix, and a five-hour outage on Sunday, June 13 at the Randolph Harley Power Plant that left the majority of St. Thomas, St. John, Water Island and Hassel Island customers in the dark overnight.
The power failures come as WAPA officials are set to go before the Public Services Commission on Monday, June 21, to petition for a hike in the utility’s fuel rate, known as the LEAC, or Levelized Energy Adjustment Clause.
The meeting is slated to start with an executive session at 9 a.m. at the PSC’s conference room in Barbel Plaza on St. Thomas, followed by the regular session at 10 a.m. The public can view the proceedings on Facebook Live.