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PSC to reconsider designating Tutu windmills company as a public utility

ST. THOMAS – The V.I. Public Services Commission agreed to reconsider whether Island Wind Power – the company that installed two wind turbines at Tutu Park Mall – should be assessed fees as a public utility.

At a special meeting Tuesday, the PSC board unanimously voted to grant a petition for reconsideration filed by Island Wind Power in December.

According to PSC rules, if the board does not act on the petition within 30 days, it is automatically denied. Today was the deadline for PSC action.

The PSC decided to grant the petition and have a hearing on the matter at a future board meeting, along with the final presentation of a hearing examiner’s report on whether or not Island Wind Power is a public utility.

It makes sense for both related issues to be dealt with at one time, said PSC interim chairman Donald Cole.

Hearing Examiner Rosalie Simmonds Ballentine, in a report filed Friday, found that Island Wind Power must be regulated as a public utility unless it sells power solely to the V.I. Water and Power Authority.

The report also found that all assessments that have been charged to Island Wind Power – minus WAPA’s attorney fees – have been rightfully charged and should be paid by Island Wind Power.

Assessments are the cost of PSC investigations and hearings, which typically are passed on to the regulated utility.

In 2008, Island Wind Power built two 50-kilowatt turbines behind Tutu Park Mall. The mall agreed to purchase power from the turbines until Island Wind Power’s initial investment is recouped, then the windmills will become the mall’s property.

The two turbines can provide a combined maximum of 100 kilowatts of power to the mall, which needs an average of 1,300 to 1,400 kilowatts to operate.

In October 2008, the Public Services Commission gave Island Wind Power “Qualified Facility” status, which authorizes the company to be a small power-producer. PSC rules require WAPA to enter into negotiations with any Qualified Facility seeking interconnection. While the windmills do not draw power from WAPA’s grid, they require interconnection with the grid to regulate the flow of voltage from the windmills to the mall.

Ballentine was hired by the PSC in 2009 to consider the interconnection application. Ballentine came up with a proposed interconnection agreement, and said it could move forward without a final determination on whether Island Wind Power should be regulated as a utility.

Interconnection moved ahead in December 2009, although because of mechanical problems resulting from the turbines sitting motionless for more than a year, the windmills have not been generating power since then.

In March 2010, the PSC re-appointed Ballentine to consider the public utility matter. Hearings were held in May, and she filed her final report Friday.

“The issues to be decided are simple – yet, complex,” Ballentine said in the report. “As the parties have demonstrated in their briefs, they do not involve issues of fact in so much as they involve questions of statutory interpretation and application.”

She said WAPA’s position is that Island Wind Power must be regulated as a public utility because it sells power to Tutu Park Mall.

Island Wind Power maintains that it cannot be a regulated utility because it was already certified as a small power-producer by the PSC, Ballentine said.