Environmental groups denounce PREPA privatization

By John McPhaul

Organizations collectively calling themselves Queremos Sol on Wednesday repudiated the privatization announcement by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), saying the transaction lacks transparency and public participation, which only benefits private interests.

The contract, “agreed to in dark rooms behind the backs of the people, was only made public on Tuesday, a day after the transaction was announced,” the group said in a press release.

“The transaction, which commits another $1.5 billion from the people, adds to the long stretch of irregular and misguided transactions that have torn apart the image and capacity of that public corporation and that delay the agenda toward efficiency and distributed renewable energy, [the source of which is] located mainly in the skies,” added Ingrid Vila Biaggi, president of the environmental group CAMBIO. “The contract is flawed and does not protect the interests of the people.”

The organizations urged citizens to express their re- jection of the transaction, as well as to orient themselves on the democratic and sustainable alternative offered by Queremos Sol.

“We have shared the proposal with communities and other organizations,” said Adriana González, a coordina- tor with the Sierra Club. “It is important that each citizen knows that Puerto Rico has more cost-effective options for all of us. We must demand that the government desist from privatization and take our proposal seriously.”

The agreement was described by attorney Pedro Saadé as “yet another in the trajectory of bad government transac- tions that harm the country and enrich private interests with the potential to increase the cost of energy to consumers.” Myrna Conty, coordinator of the Anti-Incineration Coalition, added that if this were a good transaction for the people, they would not have had to hide it from public scrutiny as the senior management of PREPA did.

“On Monday, government officials were proud to have shared thousands of pages of documents with the proponents, when the people, to whom they owe [their loyalty], has not been presented with a single piece of information that validates that the transaction will benefit consumers,” Conty said.

The group pointed out that, far from having a com- prehensive and long-term energy vision, the proposal to privatize PREPA was used as a subterfuge by the govern- ment of former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló in the face of his disastrous handling of the emergency and quickly restor- ing the electrical system after hurricanes Irma and Maria. “Here the managers of PREPA and the government have decided to abdicate their duty to administer public assets in the face of their own incapacity in the efficient and effective management of that [public] corporation,” said Dr. Agustín Irizarry, a professor in the Department of Electrical Energy at University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez and one of the island’s top authorities on energy issues. “Essential services, such as electrical service, cannot be at the mercy of the market or subject to profit motives. This increases the vulnerability of our people, particularly in the most needy communities.”

Meanwhile, Electrical Industry and Irrigation Workers Union President Ángel Figueroa Jaramillo said the process left out PREPA employees, whose staff has been reduced in recent years as a strategy to favor corporate interests and justify the sale of the utility’s profits.

“Now, the workers are exposed to the risk of losing their jobs at the discretion of the contracting company,” Figueroa Jaramillo said. “Likewise, the contract opens the door for the bankruptcy of the Employees Retirement System. A serious transformation process would have in- tegrated the workers, who know first-hand the needs and opportunities for providing Puerto Rico with a reliable, cost-effective and sustainable electricity system.”

PREPA Management Employees Association Presi- dent Abraham García Román rejected statements made yesterday by government officials indicating that PREPA employees are pleased with the transaction.

“This disastrous agreement betrays the people of Puerto Rico, as well as the trust and loyalty of PREPA employees, who, despite all the difficulties due to lack of maintenance, materials and equipment, kept working and managed to restore the electrical system to the last client after the pas- sage of Hurricane Maria, and the earthquake, and who maintain it today despite the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Federico Cintrón, director of El Puente, stated that “this transaction represents another delay in the system’s transformation agenda toward efficiency and distributed renewable energy, since the centralized model is being perpetuated.”

He warned that the contracted company specializes in centralized generation and in large-scale transmission infrastructure, not in distributed generation, which he said is the most appropriate model for Puerto Rico.

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