Op-Ed: The Necessity to Restore Confidence in WAPA

Water and Power Authority St. Thomas generating unit no. 23. (WAPA photo)

The Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA) just petitioned the Public Service Commission (PSC) for a rate increase and received it last week.

WAPA rates are currently the highest rates in the United States. The cost is so exorbitant that it works like a hidden tax driving up the cost of goods and services throughout the Virgin Islands.

Many businesses struggle to pay these onerous bills, and some have closed unable to afford the cost of energy. New businesses are often reluctant to invest here unless given substantial tax benefits though the RTPark or Economic Development Authority program. These generous tax breaks are unavailable to most local businesses that do not qualify.

Costly energy bills drastically reduce the amount of money families have each month to spend on critical necessities like food, mortgages, rent, tuition and medicine. The elderly on fixed incomes are even more vulnerable to the high cost of energy in the territory.

The public has been fed for years promises of soon to come reliable and affordable power. It’s incumbent on the public to ask our elected officials to make good on these pledges.

Families and businesses have a fundamental and inviolable right to energy security at reasonable rates that will improve the quality of life for Virgin Islanders, help businesses succeed and promote investment in the territory.

WAPA has been a recipient of hundreds of millions in federal aid to harden the infrastructure and make the grid more resilient. FEMA has promised more money is on the way. These efforts have been well publicized and the public has been more than patient.

The authority has been severely challenged lately with twin Island-wide outages on multiple days with one outage lasting 12 hours. On Sunday past, a St. Thomas-St. John district-wide power failure occurred, lasting for hours. This is not acceptable as we move into hurricane season.

Several summers ago, we were in exactly this same situation with numerous district-wide outages that required assistance and trouble shooting from a U.S.-based utility company with highly specialized expertise in risk assessment.

The administration should insist that WAPA bring in supporting resources now to identify the root causes of the reoccurring loss of generating capacity. It needs to be fixed expeditiously for the public good.

Hope and confidence in our power plant needs to be restored.

Editor’s note: Filippo Cassinelli is a businessman on St. Thomas.