Residents across the Virgin Islands have been using social media to announce initiatives and pressure government officials to take action on a number of fronts.
Lately two initiatives have been circulating to many Virgin Islands residents via Facebook addressing the V.I. Water And Power Authority rates.
The first is a petition titled “WAPA Destroying Our Economy” which was created by St. Croix resident Christina Lannen on the website SignOn.org, an online branch of MoveOn.org, which allows citizens to set up petitions electronically.
Lannen’s petition had garnered 2,710 signatures by Friday morning, October 21, with the goal of reaching 3,000 signatures easily within reach.
The petition urges Governor John deJongh to halt the feasibility studies and hook up to Puerto Rico’s grid immediately.
“The exorbitant electric bills of the residents and business of the US Virgin Islands is destroying our economy,” according to the petition. “Businesses are already closing because they cannot afford to pay their electric bill and stay in business. When businesses close that means lost jobs, wages and taxes.”
“We need action now,” according to the petition on SignOn.org. “The exorbitant bills that businesses and consumers pay for their electricity is obscene and is going to destroy our economy. It is time to stop the feasibility studies and just hook up to Puerto Rico’s power grid.”
“WAPA’s plan of reducing the dependence on oil by 2025 is far too long of a wait.” Lannen, a St. Croix resident and small business owner, was moved to create the online petition after hearing of numerous business owners struggling to pay their utility bills.
“I started the petition after seeing a photo of IHOP’s WAPA bill,” she said. “It was $22,000. That’s seriously obscene. Church’s Chicken closed because they couldn’t sustain their business with the WAPA bills they were receiving.”
“I also heard that Harvey’s, a long time local restaurant, closed for the same reason,” said Lannen. “Restaurants are just hanging on. I’ve noticed that stores which used to be in downtown Christiansted have either closed or the prices have really increased.”
With no clear plan to reduce energy costs any time soon, Lannen thought it was time for government to hear how people were being affected by their WAPA bills.
“People and businesses are hurting,” said Lannen. “My personal feeling is that with the next LEAC increase, a great many businesses are going to close, which will put many people out of work. I know that everyone would love affordable electricity.”
“Then the funds everyone had to pay WAPA with could be used to purchase goods and services which would lead to increased revenues and jobs,” she said.
Lannen foresees a dire future for the territory unless something is done quickly — her petition calls for hooking into Puerto Rico’s power grid — to lower energy bills.
“If our local government doesn’t do something to provide serious relief in the very near future to the people and businesses of the U.S. Virgin Islands, eventually so many people will be out of work that money will not coming in to the government coffers,” she said. “That will cause our local government to collapse because it will not be able to sustain itself.”
A second initiative called “Flip the Switch” has also been circulating on social media sites and via email across the territory. While it is unclear who conceived of the idea, the Facebook page for the initiative was created by St. John residents Paul Devine and Melissa Goodwin and had attracted 78 people who agreed to shut off their power on November 11.
“If your are tired of high WAPA bills, if you feel the LEAC is obscene, if you want to make a statement to WAPA and to the government please turn off your electric power all day 11/11/11,” according to the Flip the Switch initiative. “A very dedicated group of people in the VI have [sic] been working hard to try to reverse and eventually eliminate the burden of the LEAC and press to eliminate WAPA as we know it! We are only asking for one day, please help us show that a unified effort can make a difference — let’s “flip the switch.”
The Flip the Switch is set to begin at 8 a.m. on November 11 and residents taking part are asked to not use any power until 8 a.m. on November 12. That seems like a long time without fans, but as one event attendee explained, many residents know exactly what it is like to be without power.
“Here we go people, let’s do it,” Stephen Deans wrote on the Facebook page. “It’s only 24 hours. We have been without power much longer than that!”