wapa

Residents and business owners protest high Water and Power Authority rates on the steps of Government House on St. Croix in 2006.

I’m retired from the V.I. Legislature, but as I see WAPA trying to increase rates to 47cents per kilowatt hour, it is time to speak out. (FYI, a normal price for electricity on the mainland is 12 cents per kilowatt hour.)

What happened to the big rate relief that Gerald Groner, who was WAPA board chairman, promised us with the switch to propane? How can WAPA now be petitioning for an increase to 47¢ per kilowatt-hour?

In 2011, the Virgin Islands was in crisis. When the rate was 53 cents per kilowatt hour, it brought terrible suffering to individuals and crushed many businesses.

What is surprising is that Virgin Islanders tolerate this. 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 we must all get involved, as you are an owner of WAPA.

In 2013, the Legislature brought three bills to the floor, crafted after six months of work, that would have temporarily capped the LEAC at no more than the base rate and would have privatized the generation portion of WAPA, resulting in cutting the electric rate in half within two years.

However, WAPA sent 40 employees in WAPA T-shirts to the Legislature when the bills were heard. No one from the suffering public attended. The senators consequently lost the resolve to pass the bills. (But Sen. Clarence Payne, Sen. Janette Millin Young and Sen. 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.”

That is nonsense, of course, because most WAPA employees are suffering just like everyone else as result of the low reliability and 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 three 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 Senate as chairman of the Senate Energy Committee. My staff worked to empower suffering ratepayers. I did interviews on the radio. I published editorials in the newspapers. But I was dismayed at the passivity that Virgin Islanders showed toward a company that we the people own.

It is no secret that WAPA is run for the benefit of a few. A lawsuit against WAPA filed in April by two WAPA employees, Dwight Richardson, an engineer, and Julio Fung, a data and acquisitions control coordinator, alleges this in detail.

Political leaders can fix this situation, but it requires support from the public.

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 actively coerced other public officials who sought to end corrupt practices.

To make real changes, you need at least eight courageous senators and a willing governor.

— Former Senator-at-Large Craig Barshinger served in the 25th, 28th, 29, and 30th V.I. Legislatures