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Prasa Seeks Control of Hydroelectric Plants

By on March 7, 2019

Editor’s note: The following was first published in the March 7 – 13, 2019, issue of Caribbean Business.

Because the Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewer Authority (Prasa) does not have preferential power rates and most hydroelectric powerplants are owned by the energy utility, there is a need to ensure that water resources are protected in the event the Puerto Electric Power Authority (Prepa) is privatized.

Prasa’s director of infrastructure, José Javier Rivera, said that according to the island’s Waters Act, the leading use of the island’s water resources is for human consumption and that sometimes goes against the idea of using water to generate power. Every time water is used to operate a hydroelectric powerplant to generate electricity, there are not enough water resources to provide drinking water to citizens during a drought.

Rivera made his remarks during a panel discussion during the conference, “Caribbean Strong: Building Resilience with Equity,” organized by the Puerto Rico Science, Technology & Research Trust. He said Prasa is very interested in gaining control of the island’s hydroelectric powerplants. Currently, 21 hydroelectric units at 11 sites and three irrigation systems are owned by Prepa. “We need to secure those assets and that is something being discussed…. It is in our fiscal plan,” he said.

Prasa’s fiscal plan calls for the water utility to obtain the hydroelectric plants to also supply its own energy needs, or about 100 megawatts of power, through an agreement in which Prasa is expected to assume the operation of the hydroelectric generating units, including reservoirs, irrigation systems and all related equipment. Prepa will then credit Prasa for all power generated through the hydroelectric facilities in its monthly consumption invoice. Because a group of towns is creating a consortium to obtain control of the Toro Negro Hydroelectric Powerplant for their energy needs, Rivera said in an aside that Prasa has been raising a red flag.

“But more than that, any energy-related decision must take into account that the main use of water resources is domestic,” he said.

Storm-hardened perspectives

Rivera was part of a panel that also included the participation of Fernando Padilla, director of Prepa’s project management office; Ed Batalla, director of energy for Navigant, a consultant for Prepa; and T-Mobile Vice President Jorge Martel. The panel was moderated by Caribbean Business Executive Editor Philipe Schoene Roura. The four spoke about the challenges they faced to bring back infrastructure after Hurricane Maria in 2017 and the lessons they learned.

Batalla noted that after Hurricane Andrew devastated the “Sunshine State” in the 1990s, Florida Power & Light learned that the most important ingredient is the deployment of resources.

“When the ‘all clear’ is given, you can have a process to methodically restore the grid…. Their goal is to restore within 24 hours. It can be done with willpower and the desire,” he said.

Padilla, in that regard, noted that Prepa lost 2,500 employees over the past four years. It currently has about 6,000 workers. Asked how he sees the island’s future energy needs, Padilla said “natural gas with renewables is the current path to transform the energy sector. Parallel to that, renewables, particularly solar, integrate resiliency as well.”

But what is feasible? Batalla replied that dividing the island into eight regions powered by minigrids will bring resiliency. These solar-powered facilities must also rely on batteries used as small backup generators.

“We need batteries with solar because the sun does not always shine, but batteries can sustain energy for six hours. So, you need small generators…. I think the renewable plan is feasible. You just need to make sure it is properly integrated,” he said.

T-Mobile’s Martel highlighted challenges in the aftermath of the storm and touted low band improvements to the telecom network.

Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority Under Risk of Receivership

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