Groups: Proposed industrial-scale energy projects threaten food security
By The Star Staff
Industrial-scale energy projects represent the most latent threat to food security in Puerto Rico and hurt the environment because they eliminate thousands of acres of farmland, charged a coalition of organizations and experts who proposed redirecting federal reconstruction funds to solar systems on the roofs of existing structures.
The coalition of environmental, agrarian, community and expert organizations is made up of: The Latino Link Bridge for Climate Action-Puerto Rico, United Front in Pro-Defense of the Lajas Valley, Environmental Dialogue Committee, Earthjustice, Sierra Club Puerto Rico, Boricuá Organization and the Department of Food (El Departamento de la Comida).
The coalition in a statement said that despite the agencies’ lack of transparency, more than 60 projects submitted by island government agencies have been documented. In addition, the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau (PREB) has authorized 16 projects, which together represent more than 14,000 acres of farmland.
“Establishing large-scale power generation facilities on land classified as agricultural and in ecologically sensitive areas would occupy land that is used or can be used for agriculture and for the preservation of our natural resources,” said David Sotomayor Ramírez, a professor of soil sciences at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez Campus.
He pointed out that “granting permits without taking this into account puts at risk the already precarious food security situation that we have.”
It has been documented that Puerto Rico has suffered a historical loss of 70 percent of the land for agricultural uses since 1966. Industrial-scale energy projects would further aggravate the problem, he said.
Puerto Rico has an area of 2.1 million acres, of which 474,332 acres, or 22%, are classified as agricultural according to the 2018 census of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). However, the government is required by law to validate the Land Use Plan, which classified around 635,000 acres of land as Specially Protected Rural Land of Agricultural Value. Those areas are exclusively for agricultural use.
Representatives of the coalition stressed that studies carried out by a panel of experts in the past said that to meet the needs of a society that follows a vegetarian diet, a minimum of 612,000 acres would be required, although for the current diet, the necessary amount would be three times greater.
The coalition stressed that Puerto Rico must move to rooftop solar systems to truly be in line with best environmental practices. Industrial-scale energy projects are not sustainable because they require large tracts of land that imply increasing the gray infrastructure footprint in Puerto Rico.
The effects of expanding construction and flood-proofing of land for those projects entail: degradation of soils and landscape that prevents the cultivation crops and negatively affects tourism, reduced capacity to store (sequester) carbon, affected water supplies, increased dependence on food imported from abroad (currently 85%) and the historical loss of the agricultural area.
Some of the controversial proposed projects, they said, are: Xzerta-Tec Solar I LLC in Hatillo, 203 acres of land to produce 60 megawatts at a cost of $90 million, CIRO One Salinas LLC, in Salinas, a project on 542 acres of land to produce 90 megawatts at a cost of $330 million; and Montalva Solar Farm in Lajas-Guánica, slated to sit on 2,800 acres of land to produce 165 megawatts at a cost of $250 million.
The spokespersons warned that the evaluation of energy projects has lacked transparency and has aggravated the problem of lack of citizen participation in planning processes in Puerto Rico. They noted that in recent months they have tried by different means to obtain information and bring their concerns and their proposal to the agencies concerned, but have not received a response.
Alfredo Vivoni, spokesman for the United Front in Pro-Defense of the Lajas Valley, said that specifically the secretary of the Department of Agriculture and the chairman of the Planning Board have not answered his letters. Nor have complaints filed before the Permits Management Office and motions filed before the PREB been taken up.