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Puerto Rico Senate-passed bill would transfer hydroelectric plant operation to town

By on November 7, 2018

SAN JUAN – The Puerto Rico municipality of Villalba and three other mountainside towns could achieve energy self-sufficiency via renewable sources within two years.

This, after Senate Bill 477, which transfers the Toro Negro Hydroelectric Power Plant to the Villalba municipal government, was unanimously passed. The measure was authored by the chamber’s president, Thomas Rivera Schatz.

Mayor Luis Javier Hernández Ortiz had been fighting all government branches to achieve this initiative since the beginning of 2013, when he was elected.

“Doing justice to the mountain [towns] was needed and expand its economic development. There is no doubt this area was left behind after Hurricane Maria. We were left without [electric] power for six months, and it arrived in Orocovis in May,” the mayor told Caribbean Business.

The initiative had the support of main Puerto Rico agencies such as the Aqueduct and Sewer Authority and the Electric Power Authority, as well as that of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González, Senate President Thomas Rivera Shatz, the fiscal board Revitalization Coordinator Noel Zamot, and Senate and House lawmakers.

The bill now goes to the lower chamber for consideration and then to the governor for enactment. Villalba’s mayor would then, along with his counterparts from Orocovis, Morovis and Ciales, begin the process of building a microgrid in nearly 300 acres of his town that will combine the energy generated by the hydroelectric plant with solar panels.

The mayor said the project would be financed with U.S. Housing Department Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program funds, of which $ 2 billion has been obliged for energy projects. Hernández Ortiz said he could not yet give an estimate of the project’s costs, but that the solar panels could require a $30 million investment.

The hydroelectric plant, on the other hand, needs significant pipeline repairs. The bodies of water must also be dredged, the mayor said, when describing the state of the facility. The Consorcio Energético de la Montaña, or Mountainside Energy Consortium, will be advised by the University of Puerto Rico’s microgrid research laboratory.

When asked about electric service customers’ transfer to hydroelectric power, Hernández Ortiz said he will have to wait for legislation to regulate the transmission and distribution because the legislature’s energy policy bill only addresses energy production.

“Our goal is to achieve resilience, that if there were a natural disaster, we can have energy quickly, that we have renewable energy sources and that it be low-cost,” he said.

Puerto Rico Senate passes public energy policy bill

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