Environmental groups blast AES for seeking gov’t bailout
By John McPhaul
Environmental and community leaders on Tuesday demanded the immediate termination of the contract for the AES Puerto Rico (AES) coal-fired plant due to the recent disclosure of information that suggests that the failing company seeks to transfer ownership of its coal plant in Guayama to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA).
Members of the organizations that make up the Renewable Energy Now Alliance and that support the proposal We Want Sun expressed their rejection of AES, given the company’s request for an economic bailout from the island government, considering that its business is no longer profitable.
Environmental attorney Pedro Saadé said “this is simply blackmail and abuse by the fossil fuel industry and the companies that control it, such as AES.”
“The alternative is a just transition to rooftop solar,” he said.
Ángel Figueroa Jaramillo, president of the Electrical Industry and Irrigation Workers Union, also raised the alarm against coal.
“Now that the private business model is not yielding the expected riches, AES intends to pass the risks and losses to PREPA and let the government assume the cost of the contamination they have left throughout the territory,” the union leader said. “AES wants to give the people a problem; this is the private model and what it is revealing is that their business is no longer working for them. They want to socialize the risks and losses, and keep the gains private.”
Among the information, obtained through a demand for access to information filed by the Center for Investigative Journalism and La Perla del Sur newspaper, it can be deduced that the main reason AES considers that its business no longer profitable is because of the cost entailed in complying with local and federal environmental regulations.
In 2020, Law 5 was approved, which prohibits depositing coal ash in Puerto Rico, forcing the company to take its ash waste to the United States. In addition, in a letter dated Jan. 11, 2022, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that it was not satisfied with the method proposed by AES to manage the ash in the plant area and mitigate the impact of the contaminants that are spread by the ash. The company has also been fined in the state of Florida for accidents involving barges that transport the toxic waste.
Amy Orta Rivera, coordinator of environmental public policy at El Puente, rejected the idea that the closure of the coal plant will affect power generation, since “recent studies have shown that as renewable energy systems are integrated into rooftops, the first plant that can be withdrawn is that of AES.”
“In addition, since Jan. 15, Unit 1 of the AES has been out of service for maintenance and the country’s electrical system continues to function,” she said.
Federico Cintrón Moscoso, executive director of El Puente, noted that “what was revealed in the news confirms the claim of environmental and community groups that we have been asking the government for years to cancel the contract and require AES to clean up the damage it caused.”
In April 2021, several of the organizations held a “people’s court” where they presented evidence of the historical impact of the coal incinerator on health and the environment.
“It is well known that the incidence of cancer around the plant is much higher than in the rest of Puerto Rico, that the southern aquifer has also been contaminated, and that toxic ash has been distributed throughout at least 14 towns,” Cintrón Moscoso said.