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U.S. executive appointed to head Puerto Rico power company

By on March 20, 2018

SAN JUAN – The interim executive director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa), engineer Justo González, announced Tuesday that the public corporation’s governing board has appointed Walter M. Higgins III as the utility’s new executive director.

Currently, Higgins, 72, is the chairman and Lead Independent Director of
South Jersey Industries Inc., a public energy services holding company for South Jersey Gas Co. and other, non-regulated companies. In addition, he served on the board of the American Gas Association and Edison Electric Institute, and has led such companies as Aegis Insurance Services Inc., Marina Energy LLC, and Bermuda Electric Light Co.

“Yes, I met him [Higgings] today and he is a person who has a great vision. He is a well-prepared person. As our governor said, it is something that whenever I was asked the question I said it was in the hands of the Governing Board of the Electric Power Authority. And today, well, they already presented the person; we already communicated, and we will continue communicating,” said González, who was in charge of Prepa during the past four months after director Ricardo Ramos resigned in November.

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“We continue working hand in hand wherever necessary, wherever I’m needed,” he added.

Minutes earlier, during a press conference, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló indicated that he did not know whether a new executive director had been appointed for the utility despite it being reported by El Nuevo Día earlier.

“You have always requested independence in this process. You complain when there is government interference and now what we are saying is we left the process. I participated in the head-hunting part when there were numerous candidates who had been established. I don’t know physically who Walter Higgins is,” Rosselló said after the interim director’s statements. “That’s the process that took place and, if the decision was already made by the board, I presume they will be making an [public] expression. I didn’t know he had been named.”

The Puerto Rico Senate’s Special Committee on Energy Affairs began public hearings Monday to evaluate the measure that would establish the regulatory framework to make the privatization of Prepa viable. While deposing, attorney Christian Sobrino said that it would not be yet “viable” to open the market for private companies to begin providing power service due to the precarious condition of the grid’s infrastructure.

Sobrino, who is the governor’s representative to the island’s fiscal board and president of the Government Bank of Development, said the move would require “a dramatic investment of recovery funds to update our electrical system.”

Along the same line, Rosselló reiterated Tuesday his commitment to the private sector as an alternative to “invest capital from them to be able to restore, to be able to make part of this new.”

“There are several models. There is the generation privatization model; there, the private sector comes in and doesn’t take a cent from the people of Puerto Rico. They come and set it up so it can be developed. The second model, a concession,” the governor explained. “The government, the people of Puerto Rico retain ownership of what that structure would be but there would be an administrator to manage a concession for a term of 15 or 20 years, for example. In that case, the money that would come in, from the recovery, for example, would go to create a more robust distribution and transmission system more effective, and the investment would be toward the people of Puerto Rico. So this [talk] that the funds are going to go to the private sector is totally incorrect.”

Furthermore, he said: “For that, external investment is required; for that, we must recognize that there is a margin between the cost that exists now and what could be generated in Puerto Rico. It must be acknowledged that an initiative, for example, with federal funds that are already [assigned] for Puerto Rico, of $2 billion, should be invested in the area that will remain in the Government of Puerto Rico, which would be the transmission structure. Now, its management is something else and the money would not go to those people’s pockets, it would go to the structure, to be a more resilient structure, to make it more efficient so that the cost per kilowatt-hour, when it reaches your home and when reaches businesses, is more cost-effective.”

Prepa’s new executive director served as chairman and CEO of Sierra Pacific twice and previously served as chairman, president and CEO of AGL Resources Inc. in Atlanta, Georgia.

Higgins earned a nuclear science degree from the U.S. Naval Academy.

 

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