[Puerto Rico could become “the energy hub of the entire
Caribbean area” under a vision laid out by Rob Bishop, the chairman
of the House Natural Resources Committee, who visited the island.
Bishop is not thinking of wind or solar.] [https://portside.org/] 

 TOP REPUBLICAN PLANS TO USE FOSSIL FUELS TO MAKE PUERTO RICO “THE
ENERGY HUB OF THE ENTIRE CARIBBEAN”  
[https://portside.org/2018-05-21/top-republican-plans-use-fossil-fuels-make-puerto-rico-energy-hub-entire-caribbean]


 

 Kate Aronoff 
 May 5, 2018
The Intercept
[https://theintercept.com/2018/05/05/puerto-rico-hurricane-maria-natural-gas/]


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 _ Puerto Rico could become “the energy hub of the entire Caribbean
area” under a vision laid out by Rob Bishop, the chairman of the
House Natural Resources Committee, who visited the island. Bishop is
not thinking of wind or solar. _ 

 Solar panel debris is seen scattered in a solar panel field in the
aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Humacao, Puerto Rico, on Oct. 2,
2017., Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images 

 

In a press conference held in San Juan on Friday, with Puerto Rican
Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón — a nonvoting
representative to the U.S. House — Bishop, R-Utah, said he had been
consulting with oil and gas companies in Washington about how to bring
more natural gas to the island.

“Puerto Rico could be a headquarters for the entire Caribbean
area,” Bishop said in response to a question from The Intercept.
“That could be a source of energy not just for Puerto Rico, but it
could be a source of export for that kind of energy to other places as
well. As I look at the future, I envision Puerto Rico as being kind of
like the energy hub of the entire Caribbean area. … To do that, you
would have to get a lot of people involved, and the private sector has
a role in trying to push that forward.”

Asked if he will be meeting with oil and gas companies during his time
on the island this week, he said he would not, but that he has been
talking to them in Washington. When asked which companies in
particular he had been meeting with, Bishop said, “This is like …
if I start thanking the volunteers on my campaign, I’ll insult
somebody by forgetting them. So, let’s just keep it blanket and say
I love all of them.”

Bishop laid out some specific changes he would like to see to the
energy landscape in Puerto Rico. “I would love to see more natural
gas ports. They could be either stationary or terminals that float, as
we have in other areas of the world,” he said, noting that there
“has to be some infrastructure built before that. You just can’t
put the ports in there. … There has to be infrastructure to
integrate that within the bill.” He did not elaborate on whether he
was referring to a specific piece of legislation.

He may well have been referring to a bill written by Rep. Don Young,
R-Alaska, to privatize PREPA by, among other things, switching it from
a public to private monopoly and green-lighting new natural gas
infrastructure.

As Caribbean Business has reported, the bill syncs neatly with a
rumored bid from a consortium comprised of Shell North America LNG,
Kindle Energy, and ITC Holdings to acquire PREPA assets with
$4 billion in private capital.

Energy to Puerto Rico, Bishop insisted, “is going to have to be
imported. Natural gas would be a brilliant way to do that.”

Notably absent from Bishop’s remarks was the idea of renewable
power. As Naomi Klein noted recently
[https://theintercept.com/2018/03/20/puerto-rico-hurricane-maria-recovery/],
clean energy sources were among the most resilient during and after
Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island last September. Casa
Pueblo, for instance, a long-standing community center in Adjuntas and
an early adopter of solar technology, kept its lights on as its
neighbors were left without power for weeks and even months after the
storm — an “energy oasis.” Nine months after Maria, hundreds of
thousands of people remain without power around the island. 

The center’s director, Arturo Massol, told me not long after Maria,
“We don’t have natural gas or coal or oil. But we have plenty of
sun, and if we want to make more resilient communities we need to
reduce the vulnerability of an energy system that collapses
frequently,” as it did several weeks ago when a subcontractor got
too close to a downed high-voltage line.

“What we are promoting, instead of centralized generation,” he
added, “is distributed energy generation on the roofs of different
houses on the island — energy generation at the point of
consumption, for the benefit of the local people. The money won’t go
to a contractor or power companies. It will go directly to the
people.” In addition to his work with Casa Pueblo, Massol was
involved in a successful fight
[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q0LV3pdxVUc], several years back, to
stop a proposed 92-mile, $450 million natural gas pipeline. 

Dubbed Vía de la Muerte, which means “Death Route,” by its
opponents, that project was precisely the kind of infrastructure
Bishop touted today.

Bishop’s remarks come in the context of a long-running push to
privatize the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or PREPA, the most
recent plan for which would see different pieces of the utility’s
transmission, distribution, and generation capacity auctioned off to
private bidders. He’ll meet with the utility — which is some $9
billion in debt — on Friday. 

The natural resources committee Bishop chairs has jurisdiction
over Puerto Rico’s federally appointed Fiscal Oversight Board, and
he and González-Colón spent much of the press conference expressing
their shared frustration with the board and the need for more
oversight over the body. Last month, in a scathing letter, he
criticized board members for not taking a stronger hand with Gov.
Ricardo Rosselló, who has said he will refuse to weaken labor
protections or the island’s pension system, as the panel has
demanded. At the press conference, Bishop committed to holding an
oversight hearing some time later this spring or over the summer. And
while the board, Rosselló, and Bishop have all traded barbs, they all
agree that PREPA should be privatized.

Instead, said Cathy Kunkel, an energy analyst with the Institute for
Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, or IEEFA, PREPA could
transition to renewables.

“There is no technical reason why PREPA couldn’t transition its
system off of oil and achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2045 or
2050, as Hawaii is planning to do,” she said. She recently authored
an IEEFA study outlining why privatizing PREPA would be a poor means
of modernizing it, and told me that the utility currently spends
around $1 billion a year on imported fuel, down from before the 2014
oil crash. PREPA generates just 2 percent of its power from
renewables. 

“PREPA has historically failed to prioritize renewable energy.
Puerto Rico needs to develop more renewable energy resources,
including both utility-scale and distributed resources, in order to
reduce its dependence on imports,” Kunkel said.

If Bishop’s vision becomes a reality, he and his allies on the
island could drive Puerto Rico in the polar opposite direction,
encouraging companies to import fuel to the island only to export it
back out to other Caribbean nations, dependent — like most island
energy systems—on oil and gas shipped in from elsewhere, with
profits funneled almost entirely to multinational fossil fuel
corporations. 

“Everything we’re facing is related not to Maria, but to PREPA’s
lack of capacity to respond to hurricanes, which is not new to Puerto
Rico,” Massol said last fall. “We have seen this before, and we
have to prepare for the future.”

_Kate Aronoff is a contributor to The Intercept and a writing fellow
at In These Times covering climate and American politics. _

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