ST. THOMAS — About 75 people on St. Thomas turned up for the last of the Virgin Islands Public Services Commission (PSC) evidentiary hearings seeking feedback from the community on the proposed increase in the WAPA base electric rate.
For nearly two hours Wednesday evening business owners and residential ratepayers pled with PSC staff to reject the Water and Power Authority’s latest bid for an increase in the base electric rate. The evidentiary hearing at the PSC offices in Barbel Plaza in Estate Sugar was the last of three, one each on St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas. Attorney Kye Walker, a commission hearing examiner, will make a recommendation to the full PSC.
“At the end of the day, the costs come down to us,” said Desiree Wilkes. “We are in a situation where we are being bullied … because this (WAPA) is our only electric option.”
Carmen Ortiz angrily told PSC staff that WAPA was “taking advantage” of ratepayers. “Enough is enough,” she said. “We cannot take it anymore.”
Several St. Thomas business owners testified that exorbitant monthly bills make doing business in the territory much more difficult. Worse, WAPA’s history of mismanagement has gone unchecked for years.
“They haven’t proven that they are responsible with this money, so they shouldn’t be asking for more,” said Hooman Pedram, owner of the popular Tap & Still and Chicken ‘n Bowling restaurants on St. Thomas and St. John.
“The cry of the people was made loud and clear tonight,” said Clarence Payne, a former Senator and co-founder of the Alliance for Consumers Justice.
The evidentiary hearings come in advance of a November deadline the PSC has set for itself to take action on WAPA’s base rate increase request. The authority is seeking an increase that it says will serve as a basis for restructuring the debt from propane supplier Vitol, which the authority owes tens of millions of dollars.