PIP senator seeks probe of Ag Dept. endorsement of land lease for solar park
By The Star Staff
Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) Sen. María de Lourdes Santiago Negrón filed a resolution Monday calling for a probe into the endorsement granted by the Department of Agriculture (DA) to Clean Flexible Energy, a subsidiary of AES Puerto Rico, to build on land of high farming value in Salinas and Naguabo.
Senate Resolution 629 highlights that the almost 1,000 acres (1,029 cuerdas) of land leased to AES by the company Agriart LCC, are classified as “Agricultural Productive” by the Puerto Rico Planning Board and as “Specially Protected Rustic Agricultural Land” by the Land Use Plan. AES intends to build a large-scale industrial solar park with a battery system and electrical infrastructure on the land, which would generate 240 megawatts of electric power.
“It is inexplicable for the Energy Committee, appointed by the Agriculture Secretary, to evaluate these energy projects, declined to endorse two solar parks in Naguabo and Cabo Rojo, on the grounds that it cannot continue with the practice of using farm land,” states the PIP resolution. “However, they did give their endorsement to two AES projects, one in Salinas and the other in Naguabo, whose construction would also impact agricultural [land].”
As part of the investigation, the PIP senator asked to evaluate the possible conflict of interest of the Agriculture Secretary Ramón González Beiró, since his son, Ramón González Bennazar, is vice president of Agriart LLC, which leased the agricultural land to AES.
“It is the duty of the Senate of Puerto Rico to investigate whether the Secretary of the DA, as head of the agency that grants the endorsement, engaged in unethical conduct, directly or indirectly, in its conflict of interest modality, in accordance with the ‘Charter Law of the Office of Government Ethics of Puerto Rico,’ especially its Article 4.2,” specified the resolution.
If the resolution is approved, the investigation would be conducted by the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, which is chaired by Sen. José Luis Dalmau Santiago.
Meanwhile, Salinas Municipal Assembly member Ada Ramona Miranda Alvarado submitted a resolution to reject the AES megaproject, given what she said was the silence of the administration of Mayor Karilyn Bonilla Colón on the destruction of agricultural land in Salinas.
In addition, the municipal resolution requires the Management and Permits Office and the Department of Agriculture to protect agricultural lands, and that the funds allocated or to be allocated to the AES Puerto Rico energy project be transferred to a special account to transport and export the thousands of tons of coal ash to be removed from the streets of the Ranchos Guayama community, and mitigate the damage to the environment and health that coal combustion residues have caused in Salinas.
Víctor Alvarado Guzmán, the PIP’s secretary of environmental affairs, criticized the government of Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia for its economic rescue of AES.
“AES announced that it was in a financial crisis, and the government ended up bailing them out again with contracts for four projects in Salinas, Guayama, Naguabo and Las Piedras,” Alvarado Guzmán said. “The company polluted air, soil and aquifers, it poisoned the health of hundreds and perhaps thousands of people and spread over 2 million tons of toxic ash in various towns, but never took responsibility for all the disaster it caused. Now they come to destroy our agricultural land. Their greed and destructive mentality has no end.”