WAPA Is Run for the Benefit of the Few

former senator-at-large Craig Barshinger

Dear Source:

I’m retired from the VI Legislature. But as I see WAPA trying to increase rates to 47¢ per kilowatt hour, it is time to speak out. In 2011, the VI was in crisis. When the rate was 53¢, it brought terrible suffering to individuals, and crushed many businesses.

What is surprising is that Virgin Islanders tolerate this behavior. If you are a Virgin Islands resident and taxpayer, you own WAPA.

The good news is that the electric power situation can be solved. The bad news is that you must get involved, as you are an owner of WAPA.

In 2013, the Legislature brought 3 bills to the floor, crafted after 6 months, that would have temporarily capped the LEAC at no more than the base rate, and privatized the generation portion of WAPA, resulting in a halving of the electric rate in 2 years.

WAPA sent 40 employees in WAPA T-shirts to the Legislature when the bills were heard. No one from the suffering public attended. The then-senators consequently lost the resolve to pass the bills. (I must report that Sens. Clarence Payne, Janette Millin Young, and Kenneth Gittens maintained their resolve.)

WAPA agents told senators behind closed doors that “We will un-elect you if you touch WAPA. We have 610 employees, each of us controls 10 votes, so we can send you home.” This is of course nonsense. Most WAPA employees are suffering just like you are with low reliability, high-cost electricity. And there are far more people and businesses suffering from WAPA’s poor performance than the few who benefit.

After some strong protests in 2011, the public seemed to have become numb by 2013, because the public made no show of support for senators “doing the right thing.” WAPA spoke with the loudest voice, so WAPA got its way: none of the bills passed. Rates stayed the same.

This is not the first time I’ve reported this information. I reported it from the floor of the Legislature as chairman of the energy committee. My staff worked behind the scenes to empower suffering payers. I did interviews on the radio. I published editorial in the newspapers.

I was dismayed at the passivity that Virgin Islanders were showing toward a company the we all own.

It is no secret that WAPA is run for the benefit of a few. The current lawsuit underscores this. (Jung & Nicholson are suing WAPA. You’ve seen, or can see, it in the news media. The allegations are severe. Most people reading this will say, “I’m not surprised.”)

Political leaders can fix this situation, but it requires support from the public. That’s how democracy works.

Everyone knows that my house was powered by solar energy, so WAPA couldn’t do anything to coerce me. I was a sensible choice for Chairman of the Energy Committee for this reason. But WAPA agents have actively coerced public officials who sought to end corrupt practices. To make real changes, you need 8+ courageous senators and a willing Governor.

Incidentally, ask what happened to Sen. Janette Millin Young after she stood strong on her Legislation to cap the LEAC.

Also, ask former WAPA board chairman Jerry Groner where is the rate relief he promised with the switch to propane? How can WAPA be petitioning for 47¢ per kilowatt-hour?

FYI, a normal price for electricity on the mainland is 12¢.

Craig Barshinger
Senator at Large, 25th, 28th, 29 and 30th Legislatures