Union criticizes Puerto Rico government’s plan to privatize power utility
SAN JUAN – The president of the Irrigation & Electrical Workers Union (Utier by its Spanish acronym), Ángel Figueroa, on Tuesday criticized the proposal to privatize the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa), announced Monday by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, saying it involves “selling what generates profit” while “the country is left with liabilities, which is the debt.”
The union leader also warned that leaving the public corporation in private hands would eventually produce higher electricity bills.
“Prepa is a public good that belongs to the people […] Energy is a right of humanity and not a commodity […] We strongly oppose privatization in any of its modalities. […] We must stop fooling ourselves; privatization increases light bills and makes us more vulnerable as a people,” Figueroa said at a press conference.
In a televised speech Monday, Rosselló announced his intention to begin the process to privatize Prepa during the next 18 months. According to La Fortaleza, the plan is backed by the private sector.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Carlos “Johnny” Méndez and Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz have conditioned their endorsement of the plan until after evaluating the bill that would provide a framework for the privatization process.
“We cannot leave the patrimony that belongs to us as a people in private hands,” the union president continued. “You already know how the private energy producers reacted, turning off their machines [before the impact of Hurricane Maria] so [they wouldn’t] lose their investment. Let’s not allow the main industry that develops the country to be stolen from us. […] The governor is taking advantage of the discomfort of the people who don’t have electric power.”
Figueroa said the union agrees with the need to increase production of clean energy and find ways to make electricity more affordable. However, he assured, “That is only achieved with the public model.” He recalled that “energy was nationalized in the ’40s” to bring power “to the neediest in the country,” referring to people living in remote communities on the island.
The union leader announced that Utier’s first step to fight the government’s plan to privatize Prepa would be to convene a multisectoral meeting “to discuss the consequences, plans and actions, so everyone, as a people are rising up, to avoid a robbery.”
“If we allow it to be privatized, there is no going back,” he stated.
Four months after Hurricane Maria’s devastating impact, more than 30% of Prepa’s subscribers remain without power, according to government data.