The Virgin Islands Public Services Commission (PSC) held its Regular Meeting yesterday, Tuesday, June 13, 2023. The Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA), and the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority (VIWMA) came before the Commission to provide testimony and updates. The Commission also received updates on several matters on Telecommunications and Ferryboat Matters.
The meeting immediately rose into Executive Session, where the Commission discussed legal and personnel matters.
PSC Staff reported on the Universal Service Fund (USF) and Connect USVI Fund in telecommunication matters. The Federal Communications Commission has extended the Universal Service Fund, which has provided significant financial support to telecommunications carriers in the Virgin Islands for many years, primarily VITELCO (now d/b/a “Viya”) but also including AT&T (now Liberty), Choice Communications, Vitelcom, and Broadband VI (“BBVI”). The FCC had previously announced that the USF program would be discontinued after this month, but the replacement program is not yet in place, and the USF will be continued.
The FCC also created the Connect USVI Fund in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria and is a significant part of the planned replacement for the old USF program. The FCC conducted a “reverse auction” and awarded the Connect USVI funds to Broadband VI to build a new highspeed fiber optic network throughout the Virgin Islands that must be available to serve every business and residence in the Territory. BBVI was permitted five years to complete the network and will receive payments through this fund over ten years. However, BBVI’s compliance with the award’s requirements must be recertified by the PSC every year to maintain eligibility. The recertification also requires that BBVI conduct testing as sections of the network are completed. The Commission is improving its capacity to conduct the necessary testing and coordinate with BBVI. In other telecommunication matters, VITELCO’s Quality of Service standards was addressed. Modifications to the established Quality of Service standards were made in February. VITELCO had three months to improve and still has not met its target goals. VITELCO has requested another month to reach its goals.
In Ferryboat matters, the PSC’s technical consultant, Avery Williams, proposed a draft report for ferry franchise rate review for future discussion in the May meeting. The Commission discussed the STJ Ferryboat Companies’ response to the draft report. No action was taken on the proposal, and the discussion will continue in the PSC’s next meeting.
In Energy Matters, WAPA CEO Andrew Smith gave updates on the Wartsila units on St. Thomas that are set to be tested beginning this week.
The current Electric LEAC rate is due to expire. Under two conditions, the commission voted to extend the current LEAC rate at $0.2222/kWh for 90 days.
- Confirmation that the rate includes funding for Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) payments.
- WAPA shall submit a full Electric LEAC petition complying with the established Minimum Filing Requirements (MFRs) by July 29, 2023.
Bruce Levy of BMR Solar, LLC came to seek help from the Commission. At the end of May, BMR, which operates the solar fields at Spanish Town on St. Croix and Donoe on St. Thomas, moved to intervene in the LEAC proceedings because they have not received utility payments for an extended period. BMR’s petition had three requests:
- that WAPA not be granted any new PPA’s until they show they can honor payment plans; or.
- establish a separate account so that the monies received by the utility to pay for purchased power be held to pay the power providers; or
- establish BMR as a public utility to sell power directly to customers.
WAPA has retained outside counsel to respond to the BMR petition, and the discussion will continue in the PSC’s next meeting.
The Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority was subpoenaed to come before the commission for failure to appear at previous meetings. Director Roger Merritt appeared in the meeting to report on fees and charges currently collected by VIWMA and their five-year planning. An oral report was made on fees collected, and VIWMA was directed to provide that report in writing. VIWMA stated that it did not have a five-year or long-term plan.
All four Commission members (David Hughes, Pedro Williams, Andrew Rutnik, and Raymond Williams) and Ex-officio Senator Marise James attended today’s meeting. Senator Carla Joseph was excused from the meeting.
Learn more about the VIPSC matters and efforts by visiting the Facebook page and this website.