Light returning to the US Virgin Islands

by Feb 13, 2019United States Virgin Islands0 comments

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that,” said Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

It seems only fitting, then, that this past January, a month we recognize and celebrate the birth and achievements of MLK, the United States Virgin Islands is making good on its promise to keep the lights on.

Roughly a year and half after hurricane Maria devastated the territory of the US Virgin Islands, descending it into some of its, both literal and metaphorical darkest days, the light is returning. Hopefully, ushering in a brighter and more sustainable future for the territory.

The territory’s Water and Power Authority (WAPA) is making good on past promises to rebuild and strengthen the power grid in the aftermath of hurricane Maria.

Beginning late last year, the WAPA governing board ratified new contracts for the implementation of new generators at the Harley Power Plant on St. Croix island. They also increased the budget cost for the plant in order to help modernize the electrical distribution system.

Among many other projects and contracts that will be enhanced by the boards decision, they will purchase composite poles for an estimated $7.3 million to “complete ongoing federally-funded hazard mitigation projects in the territory.” Or, how the board amended a contract with FX Bonnes to help repair the East End Substation. $24,000 will now be allocated “to redesign the reconstruction of the substation and provide enhancements for other power systems and substations”

WAPA then rang in the New Year with a decision to restart disconnecting service for those customers who have not paid their electrical bills on time. And while many islanders may wish this policy not be implemented, this is a sign from WAPA of the renewed health and stability of territory’s electrical grid.

Furthermore, on January 4 WAPA entered into a “memoranda of understanding” with the New York State Power Authority (NYPA) that will put in place “mechanisms for New York to provide technical consulting support for the continued rebuilding of the WAPA grid.” These will include, but are not limited to, “making investments in upgrading the generation, transmission and distribution systems to improve reliability, as well as incorporating a practical approach to alternative energy resources to help reduce the reliance on fossil fuels.”

This partnership, aided by the non-profit American Public Power Association (APPA), is yet another sign of progress for the island and its recovering electrical grid. The NYPA and APPA have years of experiencing helping rebuild electrical systems, most recently in Puerto Rico who, too, suffered the same fate under hurricane Maria.

Just last year, the NYPA sent 450 utility personal to completed a restoration project in the San Juan metro-area to restore power to over 300,000 residents. They are still helping consult and aid the islands of Puerto Rico to this day.

In a press release New York Governor Andrew Cuomo heaped plenty of praise on the partnership, “We welcome the opportunity to offer assistance and support as the islands work to rebuild their electric grid, and we will not rest until they are stronger and more resilient than ever before.”

Finally, in what may be the most important mark of progress for the territory in its restoration efforts, the WAPA governing board approved the sale of “excess transformers and varied material and supplies to assist in the restoration of electrical service to residents of the Northern Mariana Islands.” This after the islands of Tinian and Saipan within the Mariana were devastated by Super Typhoon Yutu last October.  

Darkness descended on the territory of the US Virgin Islands and its sister US territories for too long.

However, with a plan and some wise execution by both public and private entities, light is returning to the territories and driving out the darkness.