WAPA celebrates opening of reverse osmosis plant
Published: August 14, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - Officials raised glasses of pure water to toast the opening of a new reverse osmosis facility at the V.I. Water and Power Authority's Randolph Harley Power Plant on Tuesday.
The osmosis plant will be owned and operated by Seven Seas Water Corporation, which signed a 20-year agreement to provide water to WAPA in April 2012.
The cause for celebration, according to WAPA officials, is that the utility will buy water from Seven Seas at about half what it cost to produce it using the old desalination system the osmosis facility replaces. A similar osmosis facility will open in October at the Richmond plant on St. Croix, making osmosis the process behind all of the potable water WAPA supplies.
The desalination system WAPA used for more than 30 years required fuel oil to process water by heating it and creating steam. About 7 percent of every gallon of fuel oil WAPA purchased went toward making water potable, according to an information sheet WAPA supplied Tuesday.
Using high pressure, reverse osmosis forces seawater through dense membranes to remove suspended and dissolved solids.
The two osmosis plants will supply WAPA with about 2 million gallons its 5,500 customers consume daily without the expense of fuel oil, and Seven Seas will supply the water at a cost of $4.77 per thousand gallons until the end of 2014, according to WAPA spokeswoman Cassandra Dunn.
The $4.77 per thousand gallons will remain the base rate past 2014, with adjustments made annually according to fluctuations in the Consumer Price Index. However, those increases or decreases are projected to be slight, Dunn said.
According to WAPA officials, the result will be significant savings passed on to water customers as WAPA files future adjustments to the Levelized Energy Adjustment Clause with the V.I. Public Services Commission.
WAPA has been using temporary units installed by Seven Seas in response to a crisis that forced WAPA to ration water after a steam-gathering boiler broke in November 2011. The newly installed plant features permanent units, but WAPA has already reduced the cost of water by between $3 and $4 per thousand gallons since Seven Seas moved in to supply its production needs, WAPA executive director Hugo Hodge Jr. said.
Hodge said Tuesday he could not put a number to the expected future savings, but it would be significant.
"WAPA is a not-for-profit public company, so any savings that we realize are passed directly on to our consumers," Hodge said.
WAPA has had to spend about $900,000 to upgrade the infrastructure to the Richmond plant so that it can support Seven Seas' operation.
No additional up-front costs to WAPA are associated with the 20-year agreement, according to Hodge.
WAPA's water employees who had been involved in the management of the desalination system will remain with WAPA but they have been transferred either to the electricity system or to work on the distribution end of the water system, Hodge said.
Seven Seas Harley plant manager David Starman said that about seven employees are needed to run the facility, which is highly automated.
Seven Seas President John Curtis said the osmosis system replicates work that has been done or is currently being done with utilities throughout the Caribbean, which has been the privately owned company's focus for the last several years. Seven Seas is in the process of becoming an Economic Development Commission beneficiary, and the programs' incentives made the investment in WAPA's plants, about $35 million to $40 million, worthwhile for the company, Curtis said.
Other benefits to WAPA from the agreement include enhanced plant efficiency as the purified water Seven Seas produces can also be used to clean and supply turbines that produce electricity, Curtis said.
- Contact Amanda Norris at 714-9104 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.