Constant power outages are disturbing life in the US Virgin Islands

by Oct 1, 2019United States Virgin Islands1 comment

The United States Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA) has made large strides since the destruction of Hurricane Maria two years ago. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been enough.

The territory is continuing to cope with blackouts that have crippled day-to-day life for its residents and impeded its economy from fully recovering.

“It is no secret that both of WAPA’s power plants, but more so the Randolph Harley Power Plant on St. Thomas, have suffered through instability events of late, which have resulted in a number of major and district-wide service interruptions, said Lawrence J. Kupfer, the Virgin Islands WAPA’s Executive Director.

The US Virgin Islands’ Government is fully aware that the electrical outages throughout the territory are infuriating for residents.

“This issue continues to be a top priority for our administration, said Governor Albert Bryan Jr. (D). “We fully understand how the disruptions have impacted homes, workplaces, schools and particularly our residents with sensitive health concerns. We are tirelessly working with WAPA towards establishing more reliable and efficient power generation and have been assured that the immediate challenges confronting the authority are solvable. We are grateful to our technical partners like the New York Power Authority (NYPA) for their immediate and emergency assistance toward the much anticipated solutions to these problems.”

Earlier in September, WAPA requested the NYPA immediately send technicians to the islands to assist with the power outages, and the NYPA promptly accommodated that request. WAPA is trying, says Lawrence J. Kupfer to correct these issues promptly, “I assure our customers that everyone at WAPA understands the frustrations that the repeated outages have caused. For all of us at WAPA, having one customer without electrical service is one customer too many”.

However, the reality on the ground is angering many US Virgin Islanders. In a powerful Opinion piece in The Saint Croix Source, Filippo Cassinelli elaborates the toll the outages are having on ordinary citizens.

“The constant WAPA power outages are demoralizing people and businesses. The psychic toll is heavy. The sense of security we come to expect in our daily lives is eroding as outages strike at the most inconvenient time effecting family life, social functions, the work place environment, customer and visitor experiences”.

He continues by describing how almost every islander now has surge protectors on their appliances. However, he says he cannot tell you anyone on the island that has still not lost an important electrical device to a power surge.

The problems extended into all parts of daily life on the Territory. On September 19, five St. Croix schools were forced to close early due to electrical outages.

Finally, this latest blight on WAPA forced an emergency meeting of the Board of Directors that led to the issuance of a contract to RG Engineering to make emergency repairs to generator #17 on the territory that, one fixed, should help “provide significant fuel cost savings and increased power plant reliability”.

In addition, Congresswoman Stacey E. Plaskett (D) of the US Virgin Islands, released a statement concerning a letter she has penned to Governor Bryan Jr. Within, she describes the territory as suffering an energy crisis, and she wants an energy emergency declared. Doing so, she claims, would free up federal funds to assist in their islands recovery.

These are good problems to solve, but WAPA, the NYPA, and the US Virgin Islands government need more concrete, long-term solutions.