The US Department of Energy is recommending a new natural gas plant in Puerto Rico, but the move is a contentious one. The territory has recently passed a bill committing to 100% renewable energy by 2050.
Tensions were laid bare at a recent hearing in the House of Natural Resources, and central to concerns were how best to reshape the region’s energy future, after the devastation caused by 2017’s Hurricane Maria which destroyed Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA’s) grid.
The DoE has asserted that 1200-1600MW of natural gas generation in San Juan would significantly benefit both disaster resilience and grid reliability, and the renewables bill is yet to be signed by Poerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló.
According to the DoE’s analysis, the most cost-effective solution to secure the island against future disasters, is the gas plant.
DoE assistant secretary Bruce Walker said “DoE believes an increase in the natural gas generation in San Juan would be one of the single most valuable investments for PREPA’s long-term recovery,” Walker said. “However, pursuing this investment may be at odds with the island’s energy policy should the governor choose to sign the Puerto Rico Energy Public Policy Act.”
Walker further stated that San Juan, the capital, constitutes approximately 70% of the territory’s overall load, but is fed electricity via a network of North-South transmission lines, delivering power from the south of the island. These lines proved to be a weak point during Hurricane Maria, and took months to repair.
The plan met with some resistance from Democrats, saying the plant would tie the territory into fossil-fuel infrastructure, and delaying the transition to renewables.
“How do you reconcile your statement of LNG being the most valuable investment with the island’s policy toward renewable energy?” asked New York Democratic Rep. Nydia Velázquez.
“The renewable energy portfolio as set forth today given the technology is undoable,” Walker responded, adding that “it’s not technically possible today to convert that island instantaneously to 100% renewables.”
PREPA CEO José Ortiz Vázquez said natural gas was “the perfect partner” for renewables, but also said he supports the public policy goal of 100% by 2050.
“I think at the end of the day technology will dictate how much we will need on natural gas and how fast we can integrate renewables,” he told lawmakers.