Gubernatorial candidates weigh in on how to transform the island’s power grid
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
With the purpose of advancing concrete ideas on how the next government that takes office in January will transform Puerto Rico’s electric power system and provide fair access to every citizen, five of the six gubernatorial candidates participated Wednesday in community collective Queremos Sol’s Energy Forum at Polytechnic University.
The forum’s goal was to understand each candidate’s proposal for transforming the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s (PREPA) business and governance model as Queremos Sol’s objective, said CAMBIO Founder Ingrid Vila Biaggi, is to present “an energy public policy of transformation in Puerto Rico with a preference for immediate conservation, efficiency, and clean renewable energy measures.”
“Puerto Rico can become a transition model for renewable energy and be a pioneer in an integral energy focus that considers risk reductions, effects of climate change, human and environmental health, adaptability, equality, and democratization,” Vila Biaggi said.
In the forum’s first round, Puerto Rican Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Juan Dalmau said his vision for transforming the island’s electrical grid involves taking advantage of its geographic location to use the natural resources available, such as solar energy, instead of burning fossil fuel, an approach the pro-independence senator said is based on “antiquated models.”
“I consider that today, it is more urgent now than ever before to take the fundamental steps to adapt an energy policy that is based on renewable sources; therefore, in the Energy, Environmental Protection and Natural Resources section of my government program Patria Nueva, we integrated, by name and surname, the proposals that were contained in Queremos Sol’s program,” Dalmau said.
Dalmau said further that he was against the so-called sun tax and would install solar panels on abandoned industrial grounds such as the Commonwealth Oil Refining Co. Inc. or the Rafael Cordero Santiago Port of the Americas as he will not consider compromising the health of agricultural land and recognized issues on land ownership and the conflicts that exist for their acquisition.
“We must emphasize the access to technologies such as photovoltaic sheets in solar communities, in other words, that the energy production systems via renewable energy must be accessible through community, residential and individual ends,” Dalmau said. “We must democratize access to the sun.”
Dignity Project (DP) gubernatorial candidate César Vázquez said he would not bet that “the majority of us will be alive in 2035, much less in 2050” if something is not done starting Jan. 2, the day the next elected government takes power as it “will confront a decimated economy with 150,000 new unemployed, and many citizens who have lost their healthcare plans.”
“For the DP, our principal project, which begins by creating a government that is honest and recovers credibility before the country and the federal government, is to stimulate our economy, and that stimulation depends on that source we call energy,” Vázquez said. “Our source of energy, PREPA, has been a drag on our economic development and, to top it off, we are still recovering from Hurricane Maria.”
Vázquez said his response as governor would be “to create trustworthy energy at a reasonable price” whereby the price per kilowatt-hour shouldn’t surpass 20 cents. He added that he would “breathe down LUMA Energy’s neck to comply with PREPA’s agreement and put pressure on making sure that energy cost per kilowatt-hour should not surpass 12 cents.”
In the second round, independent candidate Eliezer Molina said he saw electric power as something “medullary” and proposed creating a cooperative system that would generate energy and develop microgrids, which have the advantage of going “around every community and bringing back electric power to the most disadvantaged communities.”
“Human development is focused on housing, health, education, every fundamental element that we must guarantee to every member of our society; therefore, naturally, electric power is for our people, not for those who [advertise] on billboards and don’t pay for electric power,” Molina said. “It’s not for those great capital businesses that have established [themselves] here with great tax exemptions.”
Molina emphasized that his government will create an Evaluation and Enforcement Office to ensure compliance with regard to the funds invested in the island and guarantee that every citizen has access to free will and human development.
“We can’t depend on only one source of renewable energy, and I insist, microgrids can enforce such a purpose as Puerto Rico, being a small island, can use hydroelectric, solar and wind energy, but we have to do it in a balanced manner,” he said.
The spokesperson for Popular Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate Carlos Delgado Altieri, Josué Brenes, said “we were informed that a person who was in contact with Charlie Delgado in recent days, tested positive for COVID-19. In a preventive way, the corresponding adjustments have been made in his schedule, while the candidate undergoes the proper tests. Once the results are ready they will be made public.”
In the third round, Citizen Victory Movement gubernatorial candidate Alexandra Lúgaro said that for decades the energy model pushed by the Puerto Rican government has been a “contradiction,” such that even though the Energy Public Policy Law mandates a swift a transition to renewable power sources, the government has “pushed for dependence on fossil fuels, such as natural gas, that would delay reaching the goal of fully producing renewable energy by 2050.”
“In the next few years, there will be multiple funds allocated to building a resilient electrical grid; the most recent estimate is $1.9 billion in Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) Program funds,” Lúgaro said. “With that amount of money, Puerto Rico could [build] 210,000 systems of two kilowatts each, when we talk about conglomerates, that would be 428 megawatts, whereby we could replace the AES coal plant, which we would close as soon we become a government.”
New Progressive Party candidate Pedro Pierluisi said he envisions an island with “sustainable economic growth for everyone.” He said it can be accomplished if energy costs are reduced in order to make the country competitive and by enforcing laws that were already signed in latter administrations.
“It is equally important to protect our natural sources, particularly, the ecologically sensitive, in order to be diligent in fighting against climate change,” Pierluisi said. “Electric power is a pivotal service that sustains our economic development so people can have the quality life they deserve; therefore, it’s indispensable to have an efficient and [affordable] service. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case in recent decades as PREPA, as a public corporation, has been ineffective at modernizing its infrastructure.”
Regarding the LUMA Energy contract for managing PREPA’s transmission and distribution system, Dalmau, Molina and Lúgaro were against the agreement, which they deemed “leonine,” and contended that PREPA should be treated as a public asset. Meanwhile, Vázquez and Pierluisi said the contract should be reviewed once again for the sake of the island’s needs.