Puerto Rico Energy Commissioner: Fiscal board unable to approve critical projects if agency is eliminated
SAN JUAN – The fiscal control board would be unable to approve critical energy infrastructure projects if the Puerto Rico Energy Commission (PREC), which regulates the Electric Power Authority (Prepa), were eliminated, as proposed by the administration of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló.
This is due to the fact that the federal Promesa law, which created an expedited process for critical infrastructure projects, specifically establishes that energy-related ones must be approved by the commission after ensuring they comply with the public utility’s integrated resource plan.
“All I’m saying is what the federal Promesa law says and what the commission does,” PREC Commissioner José Román said in reaction to the government’s proposed reorganization, which involves eliminating the commission and transfering its duties to the Telecommunications Regulatory Board and the Public Service Commission.
According to a book that analyzes Promesa, authored by Rolando Emanuelli and Yasmín Colón, the revitalization coordinator, a position created by Promesa and currently served by Noel Zamot, has 60 days to analyze critical infrastructure projects presented to him. The analysis must include a determination from the Planning Board regarding whether the project is inconsistent with the Land Use Plan or the Energy Commission, and whether the project will affect the utility’s integrated resource plan, for those projects that propose connecting energy transmission or distribution facilities.
“If the Planning Board or the Energy Commission concludes the project is inconsistent with its plans, it cannot be classified as a ‘critical project,'” the book reads.
However, constitutional lawyer John Mudd said Román’s comments were a “fairy tale” after indicating that if the commission were eliminated, its work could be carried out by another entity.
Although Mudd believes the commission should not be eliminated, he also pointed out that such commissions that oversee agencies do not seem to work in Puerto Rico, noting that Prepa has ignored an order issued by the agency in 2017 to return some $80 million the utility charged its customers.
Mudd added that the government wants to eliminate the commission because its officials are from the former administration.
Meanwhile, Román assured that he learned from the press that the commission would be dismantled, since he was not officially informed. Currently, PREC has a busy agenda to transform Prepa that includes establishing regulations for the installation of microgrids and the completion in July of integrated resource plan regulations.
“This isn’t the time to dilute the energy issue with other commissions. This requires a specialized entity on the subject of energy,” Román said.
The official warned of Puerto Rico returning to the past, when Prepa regulated itself. “We have already seen what happened,” he said, referring to the public corporation’s mismanagement.
Román rejected that the proposed elimination of the commission, created under the past administration of the now minority Popular Democratic Party, was a result of his stance against the Aguirre Offshore GasPort and other disputes related to the agency’s control over Prepa.
“The commission is not an impeding entity. It watches over the public interest. The Aguirre project was not the most cost-effective. It was not rejected; it gave Prepa an opportunity to present data that it was the best project,” Román explained.
Despite the government’s decision, Román said the commission will continue its work.
PREC’s chief also said the agency has yet to determine when Prepa should put in effect the rate hike approved in January 2017. The commission denied Prepa’s request for an extension until July to implement the rate hike. The utility, however, is asking PREC to indicate when to implement the increase.
“We are looking into when the time is right,” Román said.
It should be noted that nearly four months since Hurricane María leveled Puerto Rico’s electrical grid, there are still many sectors on the island without power. According to information provided by the government, on status.pr, to date only 60.4% of Prepa customers have electric service.