Sunday, November 17, 2019

Puerto Rico Energy Framework’s Fine Print Delays Renewables Goal

By on October 25, 2018

Editor’s note: The following originally appeared in the Oct. 25-31, 2018, issue of Caribbean Business.

Despite being touted as one-of-a-kind legislation that would pave the way for Puerto Rico’s 100 percent reliance on renewable energy by 2050, the proposed energy regulatory framework and policy unveiled last week will allow the construction of incinerators and highly efficient powerplants that run on fossil fuels, which will end up slowing the transition to renewables energy.

Senate Bill 1121 was touted by its authors, Senate Vice President Larry Seilhamer and Minority Leader Eduardo Bhatia, as a one-of-a-kind bill that would pave the way for Puerto Rico to make the transition to renewables. The bill would eliminate the monopoly held for decades by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) by allowing the sale of Prepa’s powerplants while putting the transmission and distribution systems under a private concessionaire. That strategy would begin to shift the power grid away from its reliance on oil and toward renewables.

Overseeing the energy sector is the Energy Bureau, which will ensure private power companies not only improve the infrastructure but allow for new generation systems such as “microgrids,” which would permit clusters of customers to disconnect from Prepa if a storm hits and to generate power on their own.

However, not everything is as positive as it looks when reading the fine print. The bill states it will use renewables as defined in a 2010 law, but a check of that law found the definition for renewables includes waste-to-energy plants, power generated by methane gas, fuel cells and “any other form of alternate renewable energy.”

Former La Fortaleza Chief of Staff, Ingrid Vila Biaggi, spokeswoman for Queremos Sol, said: “It is unacceptable to us that the bill allows for incineration. Any form of energy that comes from solid waste is not clean.”

Strangely, the legislation states that new powerplants that do not run on renewables must use “highly efficient [systems] that can operate on two or more types of fuel,” except coal-burning plants, which will be banned starting in 2029. Vila Biaggi believes no one will build highly efficient plants if they have to change them by 2050 because there is no return on investment.

The legislation, she said, will make the transition to renewables difficult because there are no clear structures to make renewable energy accessible to the average citizen. “They create a green energy fund, but it does not say who will benefit,” she said.

The Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association (PRMA) supports the bill, but it will still present a list of amendments. The legislation was not available to the public as of presstime. PRMA President Rodrigo Masses said the association will introduce amendments to make the change to renewables more aggressive and start next year.

Prepa’s Irrigation & Electrical Workers Union (Utier by its Spanish acronym) expressed concerns that the legislation does not protect workers’ rights or jobs as part of Prepa’s privatization—despite making the request to the Senate. Like Queremos Sol, Utier says the bill’s structure does not lend itself to a transformation to renewables. “If you leave this to the private sector, and let it take the lead, it may not happen so fast,” said Fredyson Martínez, vice president of Utier.

The legislation, however, imposes fines and criminal penalties on companies that refuse to obey Energy Bureau mandates. The legislation also introduces the concept of “prosumers,” or those who combine the roles of producer and consumer. For instance, there are electric-grid customers who also produce power and could share the surplus energy with other users.

“Since 2014, advances in technology have been tremendous, and will allow more and more Puerto Ricans to become energy prosumers; we can have the capacity to produce energy as well as consume it,” Sen. Bhatia said. “The concept of being prosumers should be embraced by all of Puerto Rico and have thousands of families taking advantage of the concept.”

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