• The Star Staff

Queremos Sol: PREPA to invest FEMA funds in natural gas instead of renewable energy

By The Star Staff

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) is slated to use part of $10 billion it was awarded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to build plants that use natural gas to provide electricity to the island instead of investing in renewable energy, the group Queremos Sol (We Want Sun) said Monday.

In a 10-year plan submitted to FEMA in December and discussed on Jan. 11 at a Puerto Rico Energy Bureau (PREB) meeting, PREPA tried to justify its determination, which is not in alignment with public policy or its own Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), the group said in a written statement.

“The proposed use of these federal funds constitutes a setback in the system’s transition to renewable energy. We see that the Electric Power Authority is wasting a unique opportunity to use this multi-million allocation in solar systems on roofs of residences or businesses, as proposed by Queremos Sol, and instead insists on fossil fuels and a centralized system,” said Ingrid Vila Biaggi, president and co-founder of Cambio, another environmental group. “We asked PREPA in writing in November 2020 to allow us to participate in the preparation of this plan but they did not respond to our request.”

According to Queremos Sol, PREPA officials confirmed that the public corporation is seeking approval from FEMA to use $850 million for the construction of a combined cycle plant near San Juan and 11 natural gas units in five locations on the island.

Natural gas is a fossil fuel, though the global warming emissions from its combustion are much lower than those from coal or oil. Natural gas emits 50 to 60 percent less carbon dioxide when combusted in a new, efficient natural gas power plant compared with emissions from a typical new coal plant.

Act 17 of 2019, the Energy Public Policy Law, allows PREPA to use natural gas. It states that “all existing or new power plants that do not operate exclusively with renewable sources, must have the capacity to operate using two or more fossil fuels, one of which must be natural gas.” The law banned new contracts for the use of coal as an energy source.

“This conflicts with the 20-year IRP approved by the PREB last year after a lengthy process of hearings and evaluation that had broad public participation,” said Laura Arroyo, a spokeswoman from the environmental group Earthjustice.

The IRP establishes that, by 2025, Puerto Rico must have 40% of its energy come from renewable sources in compliance with Act 17 of 2019. Arroyo added that, at the hearing itself, PREB commissioners said they were perplexed by the refusal of PREPA’s consultants and the public corporation itself to invest available federal funds in renewable energy.

“It is a clear mockery and contempt for world energy trends and for Puerto Ricans who recognize the reliability of renewable and distributed resources and have begun to seek their energy self-sufficiency. PREPA insists on wasting available federal money necessary to adopt solar energy resources for roofs and storage that would provide better service and economic benefits for Puerto Rico,” said Ruth Santiago, a lawyer for the Environmental Dialogue Committee.

Agustín Irizarry, a former consumer representative to PREPA’s governing board and a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez, added that “[g]iven the economic crisis in Puerto Rico, and the available resources, the use of those funds in a decentralized system based on renewable sources would save lives, promote local economic development and change the trajectory of exporting billions of dollars a year so that fossil fuels maintain a stagnant system.”

The Queremos Sol proposal offers a clear and viable route for PREPA, as a public corporation, to invest available federal funds in residential and commercial rooftop solar energy systems and battery storage, the group said. Such an innovative solution is the alternative to a large-scale system that perpetuates dependence on fossil fuels, polluting health and the environment, and which also subjects the island to volatility in gas and oil prices, the statement said.

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