On July 24, 2019, a survey was sent out the Membership of the St Croix Chamber of Commerce and the greater US Virgin Islands public related to the recently proposed WAPA base rate increase to be reviewed by the PSC on July 30, 2019.
July 2019 WAPA Survey Results
Full Survey Results including Comments
Given the unreliability of the utility, especially as of late, with too frequent outages that affect businesses and residents alike, it is hard to justify increasing a rate that is already the highest in the United States and its Territories and one of the highest in the world.
A statement shared by the Water and Power Authority on July 30, 2019, claims that the requested base rate increase of 3% will be negated by a 3% reduction in the fuel surcharge for Residential ratepayers through 2019. It makes no mention, however, of the effect on the Commercial rate (businesses) or what that means for 2020 and beyond as fuel charges fluctuate.
JULY 2019 WAPA Survey Results
A total of 192 responses were received over 5 days. The majority of respondents were from St Croix (74.6%) with 18.5% from St Thomas and 6.5% from St John. 77% have purchased WAPA services for 5 years or more; 71% owned their home while 28.9% rented; 49.5% were business owners or partners with 13.6% in management, 28.4% listed as employees, 4.3% unemployed and 9.2% listed as “Other” noted as retirees per comments. Approximately 50% of those taking the survey were in the age range of 45-64 years and 56.7% were listed as employed full-time. Respondents’ income reflected a wide range with 1% listed as $15k and under.
The 2019 Federal Poverty Guideline lists an income of $21,330 for 3 persons in a household. Source: https://aspe.hhs.gov/2019-poverty-guidelines
Many throughout the survey point to the mismanagement of WAPA over decades and the Government’s failure to pay their bills as the major reasons behind rate increases. With much of the US Virgin Islands still recovering financially from the Hurricanes and few seeing increases in wages, the burden of additional rate increases threatens an undue hardship to already cash strapped households.
If approved by the PSC, how will your business deal with the WAPA rate increase? What effect will it have on your business?
The loss of power often interrupts work, costing time and money on a weekly basis.
Has a tremendous negative impact as we are a non-profit with set budgets determined by our grants.
We may have to close the doors and leave islands. Sad for the employees.
17% of respondents stated that they would be forced to increase prices and pass the cost onto consumers. Overall, this will increase the cost of living for residents already burdened with the rising cost of living in the US Virgin Islands.
Approximately 10% note that they will be forced to let go of staff or hold off on new hires.
Additionally, more businesses will invest in solar and go off the grid, further reducing the WAPA customer base.
6% of respondents stated that increases in WAPA electricity rates will force them to shut down their businesses.
If approved by the PSC, how will you deal with the WAPA rate increase in your personal life? Will this affect your spending habits? If so, how?
Struggling right now as it is and I am not sure what will happen. I have long stop(ped) going out to social events so that I save on expense(s).
With a family of three and a baby on the way… We will be forced to do the majority of our shopping online instead of spending locally.
Won’t be able to afford electricity. I already work 6 to 7 days a week and barely make ends meet. We have the most expensive electricity rates in the country, yet we experience sub-par service.
Respondents noted that they already practice energy conservation at home and have adopted austerity measures in their daily life due to the escalating cost of living in the islands. Noted most often were a reduction in dining out, entertainment and other discretionary spending that benefits the local economy. Some commented that they will need to cut back on necessities like medications and groceries.
15% of commenters would begin to make the move towards solar and/or going full off the grid, further reducing WAPA’s ratepayer base.
8% responded that they would likely move from the US Virgin Islands if an increase in electricity rates is passed by the PSC.
Do you think the Government of the Virgin Islands should decrease some Territorial fees to alleviate the financial impact of an increase in WAPA; such as gross receipts, property taxes, licensing fees, inspection fees?
The fact that the VI Government doesn’t pay its bills is in effect a hidden tax on those who do pay because the payers must absorb this theft.
A trend in comments noted that reducing other fees may only lead to the GVI’s further lack of ability to pay their own WAPA bills and instead recommend austerity measures and letting go unnecessary staff in government departments to allocate money to pay off the GVI’s WAPA debt.
A common theme throughout the survey was the call for an outside consultant to perform a detailed forensic audit of WAPA’s financials and to privatize the Authority.
58% of respondents believe that the Government should declare a State of Emergency to seek Federal assistance and funds for the Water and Power Authority.
97.9% believe that an audit of WAPA should be made public. (2% did not respond to the question)
Overall WAPA Service Rating
The US Virgin Islands pays the highest rate for electricity in the United States and its Territories, and one of the highest rates in the world. However, an overall rating of WAPA’s services was resulted in a 2.2 score “Below Average” on a scale of 5 with respondents based on Customer Service and Quality of Service among other factors. Many praised the linemen and front-line staff but called out management for lack of accountability when questioned about inconsistencies in billing and errors.
All of my interactions with the staff are positive but delivery is terrible, outages are common. I have equipment that doesn’t function properly 6 months after I purchased them because of on and off power interruptions.
WAPA routinely estimated bills rather than read the meters. This can occur at any time but almost always occurs at the end of the VI Government fiscal years when cash flow is a problem – August and September. They routinely estimate at double or triple the normal usage, generating a cash inflow. I have one business client who normally pays $2000/month – he received a one-month bill for $11,000! In spite of pictures of his meter reading far less than what the bills shows, they refuse to fix it.
What suggestions, if any, do you have for improving WAPA service?
Overwhelmingly there were three suggested ways to improve WAPA’s service:
- Have the GVI pay their outstanding bill in full.
- Use more renewable energy sources.
100% of respondents who answered feel that WAPA should undergo a forensic audit and that information should be made public.
The results speak for themselves and are by no means a surprise to the St Croix Chamber of Commerce. Without immediate action by the Government to control WAPA’s costs, our economy will almost certainly regress with local business owners closing their doors and more citizens fleeing to the mainland.
The business community is resilient, but there comes a time when enough is enough and we can no longer sit back and accept the status quo from years’ past. The people of the US Virgin Islands have spoken and will not continue to tolerate continued financial abuse.