WAPA Issues Report on Spate of Blackouts During Recent Torrential Rains

WAPA Plant Personnel in front of GT20 at the Richmond Power Plant on St. Croix. (Photo courtesy WAPA)
WAPA plant personnel in front of GT20 at the Richmond Power Plant on St. Croix. (Photo courtesy WAPA)

The Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority said Tuesday that a series of outages in both districts last week and through the weekend were the result of extreme weather conditions, coupled with its aging infrastructure and deferred maintenance due to financial constraints.

The announcement comes after a week of heavy rains, with the National Weather Service in Puerto Rico reporting that as of Saturday morning, areas of both territories had received nearly five inches of precipitation.

It also comes as WAPA has struggled with financial shortfalls that spurred Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. to declare a local state of emergency on April 22 to secure critical funds for the utility — specifically, approximately $11 million in past-due bills owed by the territory’s hospitals and the V.I. Waste Management Authority, that has left WAPA financially strapped. WAPA officials later confirmed that the overall debt owed by all agencies, both central government and semi-autonomous, was currently in the neighborhood of $25 million.

The blackouts also highlight the need to accelerate the move to more renewable energy resources, said WAPA, adding that several major solar projects are slated to be completed this year and wind power projects are in the pipeline for 2025. It is expected that over 50 percent of sourced energy in three years will be renewable energy throughout the territory, it said.

Boosting that effort, the federal government last month announced $62.5 million for the USVI for residential community solar and power storage projects. Awarded through the Solar for All grant program, the funding is meant to allow the Virgin Islands Energy Office to develop long-lasting solar programs that enable low-income and disadvantaged communities to benefit from solar power.

The recent blackouts affected residents and businesses in both districts, including an island-wide outage Friday afternoon on St. Croix that lasted several hours, while throughout the St. Thomas-St. John district, including Water Island, several feeders experienced electrical service interruptions, WAPA reported.

St. Croix’s island-wide outage occurred around 4:40 p.m. on Friday and was initially caused by extreme weather conditions that resulted in a loss of generation, WAPA said. “After further investigating, WAPA Plant personnel identified that a fault was detected on the transformer which initiated the protection scheme, which is designed to protect WAPA’s assets from damage. WAPA personnel are gathering data for the root cause analysis to make a final determination on the cause of the outage and necessary steps to prevent future outages,” according to the release.

On Sunday at around 1 a.m. there was a major electrical interruption caused by the activation of the “Emergency Shutdown Protocol” at the liquid propane gas, or LPG, terminal facility — a safety mechanism to protect the Richmond power plant, WAPA said, adding that “the Authority is working with its partners to establish the cause of the ESD protocol activation and corrective actions.”

Later Sunday morning on St. Croix, at approximately 7:11 a.m., several feeders experienced a 12-minute outage due to the loss of generation from GT20. After conducting thorough diagnostics, WAPA Personnel identified that the generator tripped due to poor power supply in the turbine control system, according to the release.

In the St. Thomas-St. John district, Unit 23 tripped during heavy rains, leading to further electrical interruptions.

“Though it is commonly known that torrential weather can impact the safety of our linemen, similarly flooding and other wet/high wind conditions can create an extremely hazardous work environment for employees at the power plant,” WAPA said. “Despite the delays caused by the weather, diagnostic assessments were conducted to identify and address the underlying issues that caused the loss of generation.”

The existing electrical infrastructure across the territory has faced challenges as a result of aging components and deferred maintenance due to financial constraints, WAPA said. “This has contributed to the frequency of equipment failures and service interruptions,” it noted.

However, it said that as part of WAPA’s overall efforts in overcoming these challenges, it has been implementing the following measures:

Emergency Repairs/Continued Maintenance: Immediate repairs and replacements of damaged infrastructure to increase the integrity of the grid and reduce frequency and impact of electric outages.

Infrastructure Upgrades: Plans for upgrading and modernizing the electrical grid are in place to improve reliability and resilience against future disruptions, including acquisition of VITOL, completion of the Wartsila project on St. Thomas, and increased efficient generation units on St. Croix.

Accelerating Renewable Energy Resources: By diversifying our energy portfolio with renewables such as solar and wind power, WAPA aims to enhance the reliability and resilience of the grid, ensuring a sustainable and secure energy future. Several major solar projects are slated to be completed this year and wind power projects in the pipeline for 2025. It is expected that over 50 percent of sourced energy in three years will be renewable energy throughout the territory.

“The Authority understands the importance of a reliable electric grid for the well-being and prosperity of our communities and apologizes for any inconvenience caused by these recent outages,” the press release concluded.

For further information and updates on plans towards sustainability, visit WAPA’s strategic plan website.