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Groups Argue for 100% Renewable Energy to the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau

Earthjustice, on behalf of its clients, urges Power Authority to significantly revise its Action Plan to incorporate customers’ demands
Fallen 38-kilovolt structure at Punta Lima station in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria

Fallen 38-kilovolt structure at Punta Lima station in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

Jeff Miller / CC BY 2.0
February 10, 2020
San Juan, Puerto Rico —

Evidentiary hearings held by the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau on its proposed Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) concluded on Friday with a closing statement by Earthjustice attorney Laura Arroyo.

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) created the IRP in response to the months-long power outages caused by hurricanes Maria and Irma after they exposed the weakness of the island’s electricity system that depends on large, centralized plants burning imported fossil fuels. Earthjustice is representing local groups who are pressing for a rapid shift to a clean, affordable, and hurricane-resilient energy grid in Puerto Rico. These ten groups1 have set forth their own plan for the island called the Queremos Sol plan, which explains how the island can meet 100% of its energy needs with distributed solar and storage.

PREPA has presented an IRP that still depends on large, centralized fossil fuel power plants: this time burning imported methane gas. Earthjustice submitted testimony in the IRP proceeding showing that emissions and pollution from fossil fuel plants have caused serious health impacts to the communities around the plants and that the system is unaffordable with exorbitant costs for imported fuel. 

The following is an English translation of closing remarks given by Laura Arroyo, staff attorney of Earthjustice’s Florida office:

“The participation of the customers should be predominant in Puerto Rico’s electric system. The Governing Board of the Puerto Rico Electric Authority recognizes this in its vision for the energy future of Puerto Rico, which sets forth the following: ‘Customer-Centric: The IRP includes customer participation via energy efficiency, customer side energy resources and demand response with a predominant role in the supply and consumption matrix of Puerto Rico, and empowering customers to participate and take ownership on their security and affordability.’

“The Energy Bureau has before its consideration two questions: How do we move immediately toward a decentralized, 100% renewable energy future? And in the long term, how do we jump start that future?

“The step forward is an Action Plan. The testimony that we have heard throughout this week, demonstrates clearly that the Action Plan requires significant revisions and that PREPA and Siemens [the contractor who prepared the IRP] must submit more information to understand the true cost — not only the economic cost, but the social, environmental, health, and safety costs — of their proposed actions.

“PREPA and Siemens agree that the urgency of adding photovoltaic systems is driven by the urgency of providing distributed power for critical energy loads and the compelling economics of photovoltaics compared to fossil fuels, including methane gas. PREPA should deploy renewable and battery storage resources according to the Governing Board’s vision above. To achieve the mandate of the Legislature, the Action Plan should direct all available resources of PREPA toward the efforts to deploy renewable energy on the grid.

“During the hearing we heard experts explain exactly how the process of integrating renewables would work, especially distributed renewables on rooftops or brownfields, based on real, on-the-ground experience.

“Siemens, on the other hand, conducted a limited analysis based on generic assumptions, with no understanding of the situation on the ground. Frankly there’s not much to learn from that limited analysis, but we do observe that even Siemens does not deny that distributed solar, energy efficiency, and demand response are the least-cost resources. It has not been possible to advise PREPA on these matters. The Action Plan, therefore, must require PREPA to establish participatory processes with customers to promote demand response and energy efficiency programs that we know are cost-effective, and to maximize the incentives to attract customers to distributed generation.

“The IRP documents were developed outside of public participation, written by consultants disconnected from our reality, and show a strong bias in favor of large, centralized power plants burning imported gas. This preference is not supported by modeling, or by the real-world experiences with the failure of the Costa Sur gas-fired plant and the repeated delays of the conversion of San Juan Generating units 5 & 6. Nor is it supported by the people of Puerto Rico, as they remember what took place with the projects of the Gasoducto del Norte, the Gasoducto del Sur [two rejected gas pipelines], and the Aguirre Offshore Gasport.

“Siemens has ignored the significant environmental costs of the proposed gas infrastructure, which bring negative impacts to public health. Siemens has ignored important factors such as greenhouse gas emissions, including methane gas, climate change, sea level rise, flooding, and the seismic activity of our archipelago. Siemens has ignored hydrological resources to generate energy at a lower cost with existing hydroelectric infrastructure. And Siemens has ignored the real technological risks of gas infrastructure and transmission systems of the Puerto Rico grid.

“This Bureau will hear from Puerto Ricans over the next month at public hearings, and learn that the people of this island overwhelmingly reject the proposed gas buildout. To fulfill the will of the people, the Action Plan must include a prohibition on the use of PREPA resources for any new gas infrastructure and a mandate to close the AES plant. For all of these reasons and for failing to comply with Law 17-2019, the IRP proposed by PREPA and Siemens should be rejected.

“PREPA should change its business model and transition from a paradigm of selling energy to selling services to the people, including deriving income from entering the markets of electric vehicles, rooftop solar, and hydroelectrics. PREPA has already changed its business model before, as when it ceased to operate as the Authority of Fluvial Sources [when it transitioned away from a hydroelectric-centered energy grid in the 1970s]. In the face of the climate crisis we’re going through, it is urgent that PREPA transform itself to meet the true public interest immediately — as the people demand.”

Video recording of remarks in Spanish
¡En Vivo! – Negociado de Energía de Puerto Rico

References

  1. The ten groups setting forward the Queremos Sol plan are CAMBIO Puerto Rico, Amigos del Río Guaynabo, Coalición Organizaciones Anti-Incineración, El Puente-Enlace Latino de Acción Climática, Comité Diálogo Ambiental, Campamento Contra las Cenizas de Peñuelas, Comité Yabucoeño Pro-Calidad de Vida, Alianza Comunitaria Ambientalista del Sureste, Mayagüezanos por la Salud y el Ambiente, and Sierra Club and its Puerto Rico chapter.

Contacts

Laura Arroyo, Earthjustice, (787) 319-3396

We're the lawyers for the environment, and the law is on our side.