High electricity costs have troubled Puerto Ricans for years, but the proposed solution from the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) has raised concerns among citizens and environmental groups.

The $450 million Via Verde project calls for a 92-mile natural gas pipeline carrying natural gas from the island’s main plant in the south to other plants in the north. The plan is part of Puerto Rico’s goal to reduce its current dependency on oil, which is responsible for 68 percent of the island’s current power generation, and rely instead on a combination of natural gas and renewable energy sources. The Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA) predicts that Via Verde will lead to a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, PRFAA estimates the pipeline will help reduce electricity costs from 21 to 15 cents kWh by 2012.

But not everyone is convinced Via Verde, which translates to “Green Way,” is actually so green, and the project has met with numerous protests and petitions to stop construction.

What began as a 42-mile southern pipeline, proposed by former Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vilá (2004-2008), blossomed into a comprehensive energy reform strategy by current Gov. Luis Fortuño, who made Via Verde part of his political platform.

“We have adopted an energy reform that will help us reduce our excessive dependence on expensive and environmentally harmful oil, in favor of cleaner, safer, healthier alternative sources, such as natural gas and renewable energy sources, like, solar and wind,” Fortuño said in his State Address in February this year.

PREPA and Skanska, the Swedish company that won a $74 million contract to build the pipeline, are still waiting for approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin an estimated one year of construction, which critics say would have a significant impact on Puerto Rico’s environment.

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, this project “will impact 235 river and wetland crossings” across 1,672 acres and will transverse the island “from the EcoEléctrica Liquid Natural Gas Terminal in the municipality of Peñuelas, to the Cambalache thermoelectric power plant in the municipality of Arecibo, then east to the Palo Seco power plant facility in the municipalities of Toa Baja and San Juan.”

The pipeline’s route would also clash with 106 kilometers of the Karst region, a geological formation that covers one third of the island’s territory and home of the largest Northern wetland. This aquifer supplies more than 25 percent of the total water demand in the country for domestic or agricultural use. Nevertheless, PREPA assures in its Final Declaration that any negative effect will only be temporary during the installation of the main tube.

The document also estimates that three archeological sites and 31 species of plants and animals could be potentially adversely affected. Due to the project specifications, migratory birds and aquatic species living in wetlands will be affected by the deforestation and construction noise, as well as the water turbidity. Nevertheless, the declaration specifies that the PREPA will be working on a mitigation and compensation plan to reforest areas and to help relocate these species once the construction is over. An estimated 1,191.3 acres of land would be cleared.

With the recent pipeline explosions in California and Texas, environmental groups such as Casa Pueblo have tried to raise awareness of the potential damage of this construction.

Casa Pueblo also questions whether Via Verde is an efficient plan to lower Puerto Rican electricity costs. According to a 2009 study the group commissioned, “Estimado de reducción del precio de venta de la electricidad en Puerto Rico” (“Estimated cost reduction of electricity in Puerto Rico”), Agustin Irizarry Rivera and Gerson Beauchamp Baez of the University of Puerto Rico concluded that the pipeline would have resulted in a savings of just 1.2 cents per kilowatt hour, after factoring in the costs of constructing and maintaining the pipeline; adding natural gas-fired plants; and the toll to be paid to EcoEléctrica for the use of its installations. Casa Pueblo also questions whether any achieved savings will actually make it to citizens’ electric bills. Of course, factoring in new construction alongside established plants is not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison of costs, but the study does highlight the up-front investment required before any significant savings could be achieved.

The government, on the other hand, is not wavering from its support for the project. Gov. Fortuno made it clear in his State Address by saying that Via Verde “will help us use natural gas as an alternate source of energy, energy that is cleaner, safer and cheaper than oil so we can finally see a reduction in our electricity bill.”

Comments

  1. Jose Perez
    Puerto Rico
    January 25, 2012, 2:35 pm

    The goverment of PR cares little about it’s citizens. Specially the PNP Party. Behind empty promises they try to convince us. I feel pity for my fellow puertoricans for they know not what they do. Putting in power liars and cheaters. This will only affect our precious Island. And the goverment, since is filth with cash, cares little.

  2. miguel torres
    usa
    January 2, 2012, 11:57 am

    Puerto rico energy and gabage can be resolve easily if the were to resicle the garbage and make matone gas out of the garbage,the process is easy to make and the blue print are free on the internet,this solution will reduce the cost of electricity by using someting that is free and abunthant in puerto rico (basura) garbage, i have sumitted this idea before only to fall to deaf ears.

  3. Ligia Perez
    Puerto Rico
    December 22, 2011, 2:56 pm

    If Skanska is waiting for a green light for its $74 millions contract to build the Via Verde gaspipe, why the Government of Puerto Rico has spent more than that in propaganda alone. It is not true that it is going to be a $450 million inversion..at the end will double or more that quantity. So there is no transparency in this government. At the end THE PEOPLE WILL NOT BE ABLE TO AFFORT SUCH EXPENSES ANYWAYS. Our Governor in his 2008 campaign promised that he will not build a gaspipe, AND LIED.

  4. Kenneth McClintock
    PR Department of State
    November 23, 2011, 8:16 pm

    For too many decades, Puerto Rico has relied on expensive foreign oil for most of its electric generation. As we start to build 600MW of solar and wind renewable energy generating projects, cheap, stable domestic U.S. natural gas can serve as a bridge fuel that will allow us to dramatically reduce our use of expensive foreign oil, reduce air pollution by 64%, reduce our carbon footprint now, not in twenty years after the ice caps are melting and the snows of Kilimanjaro have totally disappeared. Vía Verde is the multifaceted project to convert most oil-fired plants to natural gas and build the nation’s safest and most modern underground pipeline, using existing highways’ right of way most of the route, a pipeline up to 2012 federal standards that only demagogically could be compared to the San Bruno, CA pipeline built in 1947, decades before the Federal government had devised any standards. Oil brokers who collect tens of millions of dollars selling us expensive foreign oil don’t want Vía Verde developed. Most of the rest of us need it so we can lower our kw/h rates that today are triple the national average, reduce air pollution and the nation’s highest asthma rates, and dramatically lower our carbon footprint, as we develop windmills, solar farms and other renewable energy sources.

  5. Rosangely Piñeiro
    November 22, 2011, 12:35 am

    I think the government certainly doesn’t have their priorities set. It’s true the island has undergone through some very difficult financial times recently, but I really can’t seem to find the solution in La Vía Verde. In fact, the greatest values of any nation is in their natural resources, endemic animals and flora, and this is precisely what we’re endangering with this project. The government is thinking in ZEROS that can only alleviate the situation temporarily, whereas they should start thinking in the long term, and for more than obvious reasons, in the environment.
    Sadly, protests in Puerto Rico are most often catalogued as political reactions and as so are not taken with the severity the action should call. Well, I’d like the politicians of my country to know there are far more important things going on in the world than their 2012 elections… and one of those more important things is the great effort in masses throughout the globe to build a better, more earth-friendly, world for the next generations to enjoy.