The Energy Crisis and Participatory Public-Private Partnerships
Rampant unemployment, businesses shutting down, abandoned buildings, Puerto Ricans running away from the island and a fiscal control board. All of these are troubles we face day to day in Puerto Rico. We want to do something about it but, where to start?
I suggest starting by producing the most efficient, clean and economical electric energy. Perhaps it’s not the main factor, but it truly is a common denominator among all of the issues previously mentioned.
To address this situation, various proposals have come up. The first proposal, which we always hear about, is cutting benefits to Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) employees (of course, the weakest link in a chain is always the first to break). Although it is repeated a lot, it’s a difficult task and it would not represent savings as significant as many would think.
Another example is the controversial “gasoducto” (gas pipeline), which was intended for development in recent years, but after millions spent in investment, it became a failed project. The last example for the purposes of this column is the waste-to-energy project. Until now, this is another project that has not reached second base, mainly due to the opposition it has faced.
This leads me to ask: What is the common denominator that all of these unsuccessful proposals have? We can easily agree it has to do with opposition from groups of stakeholders. Whether you think they are right or not, these stakeholders’ voices have been strong enough to block these ideas from turning into reality.
Having the aforementioned framework in mind and having determined that a starting point is the generation of “more efficient, cheaper and clean” energy, we have to rethink how we can achieve this.
You have surely heard talk of a proposal for participatory public-private partnerships (APPP by their Spanish initials). APPPs represent a magnificent opportunity to address these issues while protecting the stakeholders’ interests. We must recognize that public-private partnerships have been adopted internationally to address economic and social needs related to infrastructure and services. However, according to an article by James M.W. Wong about APPPs in Hong Kong, opposition from stakeholders is precisely one of the factors that impede the establishment of some partnerships. The APPP concept seeks to solve this by inserting citizens into the process. It is a proven model in various jurisdictions by guaranteeing a larger participation from citizens to, among other things, prevent opposition.
The proposal from Governor-elect Ricardo Rosselló, as it has come to light, goes beyond guaranteeing an efficient flow of information, making it an even more useful tool than those implemented in some places. Not only will citizens participate in the approval of APPPs, but the transfer of knowledge will also be sought, and stakeholders could participate as investors. This means the citizenry can bring their concerns to the table so these can be addressed and local businesses will be hired for certain tasks. Even an entity such as a public employees’ retirement fund can participate as an investor.
There is no magic formula to solve our problems, but we must start somewhere. I propose we begin with energy projects, using the tools that APPPs provide. That way, we protect everyone’s interests.
We could achieve cheaper electric bills, reduce the environmental impact and give a public employees’ retirement the oxygen it needs. That’s a win-win situation.
– The author is 27-year-old attorney who works in the private sector. He was a legislative adviser to Sen. Larry Seilhamer Rodríguez in the Senate of Puerto Rico. Currently, he is executive director of the Journal of Legislation & Public Policy of Inter American University of Puerto Rico School of Law and collaborated in a “Plan for Puerto Rico” legislative team.