Tuesday, June 19, 2018

IEEFA: Puerto Rico power company’s budget faces 5 years of shortfalls

By on May 29, 2018

SAN JUAN – The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) said Friday that the approved fiscal-recovery plan for the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) faces billions in financial risks that will hinder the transformation of the grid.

The plan, certified in April by the Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB) for Puerto Rico, lays out a roadmap for the physical and financial transformation of the power company and is the first step in restoring investor confidence in the publicly owned utility.

The IEEFA report found that as a result of lower-than-projected revenues and higher-than-projected expenses, the utility faces $170 million in budget shortfalls in fiscal year 2019, which begins in July. It puts Prepa’s average annual deficits through 2023 at $1 billion.

The report—“The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s Fiscal Plan: Budget Shortfalls and Weak Implementation Plan Raise Substantial Risk”—cites numerous hurdles to Prepa achieving its objectives.

“Without recurring budget balance and the demonstrated discipline to achieve it over several years, none of PREPA’s plans for new transmission, distribution or generation can be achieved,” the report states.

“That means either imposing higher rates or putting off urgent grid-rebuilding needs,” said Tom Sanzillo, lead author of the report and IEEFA’s director of finance. “Operational improvements and grid modernization require investments that PREPA cannot make if its budget remains chronically out of balance.”

The fiscal plan, IEFFA adds, acknowledges the two biggest factors causing the financial crisis:

  • “PREPA’s $9.2 billion legacy debt load is unaffordable;
  • PREPA’s annual fuel budget is more than $1.8 billion, far too expensive when renewable energy can be created at substantially lower costs….”

“The governor, FOMB and PREPA all agree that PREPA cannot afford to pay back $9.2 billion in legacy debt. They also acknowledge that the annual bill for fuels is unsustainable and that renewable energy investments are an urgent necessity in order to balance the budget,” Sanzillo said

Barriers to success also include island-wide economic weakness that will lower electricity demand; risk that unaffordable rates will be required if PREPA customers are forced to pay back part of $9.2 billion in legacy debt; the risk that PREPA fails to invest in renewable energy; the risk that budgeted federal aid for reconstruction will not fully materialize; and the possibility that fuel and purchased power costs will be higher than expected.

The report cites the absence since 2014 of audited PREPA financial data, and Sanzillo said the FOMB-approved plan is lacking in several other respects: “It is internally inconsistent, with few details on major expense categories and savings presented without reference to how the benefits will improve the budget.”

However, the report concludes that the weakest part of the plan is its privatization initiative.

“As currently designed, the privatization scheme does not address PREPA’s weak financial fundamentals,” Sanzillo said. “It bypasses energy-planning requirements, competitive bidding rules, labor agreements and rate regulation—all critical if PREPA is to recover from its history of past failures.

“The fact is, the authority, under the fiscal plan, expects to sell off assets without any plan for a new generation system or a modern, well-regulated public utility. The current administration has failed in its most recent attempts to engage private contractors to rebuild the grid after the hurricane. The Fiscal Plan and privatization proposal shows they have learned nothing from this experience,” Sanzillo says in IEEFA’s release on the report.

“Bondholders are also at risk,” he continued. “Persistent budget gaps will mean that less capital will be available for investment in transmission and distribution and in renewable energy generation, so the overall transformation of the system—toward renewables and away from fossil fuels—is likely to take longer than planned. Bondholders who hope to lay claim to future budget surpluses are likely to be disappointed.”

IEEFA explained that it conducted the fiscal review “to support public demands for more transparency in the wake of PREPA’s bankruptcy and the creation of the Financial Oversight Board,” adding that there “is a need for improved access to financial information to conduct public debate on PREPA’s future. Ongoing independent budget reviews by IEEFA, and hopefully others, covering major aspects of Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Plans should help to identify progress and to identify challenges to its success.”

Full report: “The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s Fiscal Plan: Budget Shortfalls and Weak Implementation Plan Create Substantial Risk”

Editor’s note: The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) conducts research and analyses on financial and economic issues related to energy and the environment. The Institute’s stated mission is “to accelerate the transition to a diverse, sustainable and profitable energy economy.”

IEEFA receives its funding from philanthropic organizations, including the Rockefeller Family FundEnergy FoundationMertz-Gilmore FoundationMoxie FoundationWilliam and Flora Hewlett FoundationRockefeller Brothers FundGrowald Family FundFlora Family FundWallace Global Fund, and V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation.

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