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Perhaps nothing is clearer to Puerto Ricans right now than the importance of having a good power grid. Hurricane Maria battered the island months ago, yet for many people the .
Not even the alleged nor the few solar-panel users who have escaped the consequences of this prolonged outage, which include , business closures and , a and .
A major barrier to restoring power is Puerto Rico's , known as PREPA. , its infrastructure dilapidated, PREPA has been . It is also seen as corrupt. In January, some customers left in the dark for months received bills for 'services rendered.' Thousands more .
So, when Gov. Ricardo Roselló recently , many here welcomed the move. People are suffering – something must be done.
But as and the director of the community group , I believe selling off PREPA will bring Puerto Rico more headaches than relief. Here's why.
Privatization is an old idea
Privatization is not a new idea in Puerto Rico, and the outcome wasn't great the first time we tried it.
In the mid-1990s, the administration of Gov. – father of the current governor – began like telecomms, water, education and electricity. Thirty percent of the island's power generation was sold to private coal and gas interests, among them the now defunct .
PREPA – which during its – began a downward spiral. Its debt tripled from around in the 1990s to . In recent years, resulting from have further decimated PREPA.
By the time Hurricane Maria hit, as Puerto Ricans soon learned, it was unable to fulfill its public mission.
Welcoming private energy companies to the island didn't just weaken PREPA – it also damaged the environment. As revealed in a 2017 investigative reporting series by Puerto Rico's Centro de Periodismo Investigativo, the multinational AES , to brutal results.
Mountains of this toxic waste was , Dominican Republic, where it . , among other illnesses. A lawsuit was in 2016.
Coal ash has also been used as landfill when building affordable housing and highways across Puerto Rico. Giant heaps of it are part of . Still, no controls are in place to protect local water supplies from contamination.
Private doesn't mean better
Puerto Rico's post-Maria blackout also indicates that private companies aren't always more effective than public utilities.
Currently, some . The first to come was Whitefish, a Montana business based in the hometown of Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. It won to rebuild Puerto Rico's power distribution and transmission network.
It soon became clear this tiny company , triggering .
Similar contracts have followed, many also bearing the whiff of corruption. Data shows these foreign crews cost Puerto Rico . And still hundreds of thousands of people live in darkness.
The shift to renewables
The challenge now is not just to power up Puerto Rico, but to do so in a way that safeguards the island's energy future.
In the race to restore the nation's electricity post-Maria, the renewables sector . Demand surged for .
Photovoltaic roof panels went up on government buildings, shops and homes across the island. Numerous startups have emerged, generating in wind and solar production.
Renewable energy sources like wind and solar have been gaining traction in Puerto Rico. PREPA's privatization could stem that.
The privatization of PREPA could stunt this green energy shift. We don't yet know which companies have , but both current political tides and Puerto Rican history suggest they'll be fossil fuel-focused.
After all, the since has a demonstrated preference for old-school power generation. This unelected group of has backed and a .
The board also has a to prioritize Puerto Rico's creditors, not its people. So whoever buys PREPA may publicly extol clean, renewable energy but in practice I wager that its development will see stumbling blocks.
Fossil fuels are deadly
I'd contend that it is risky for Puerto Rico – an island still recovering from a – to further its dependence on coal and gas. These fossil fossil fuels , contributing to .
Dirty energy is also costly. Puerto Rico's dependence on drained $22 billion from its economy during the first decade of this millennium. Meanwhile, renewable energy prices were dropping. Wind and solar are now more .
That's why places like , and have either achieved or are building renewable grids that makes good use of sunshine, water, wind and biomasses like wood.
Puerto Rico has plenty of those resources. But embracing renewable power requires government commitment. Instead, Gov. Rosselló seems to be backing out of the Puerto Rican energy game, leaving the island's energy future at the mercy of private capital.
In its desire to privatize and deregulate, Rosselló's administration looks to be in lock step with Donald Trump, the U.S. president who and .
There are other hurdles to renewable energy in Puerto Rico, too, including and unspeakably high fees . It won't be easy to make Puerto Rico energy self-sufficient.
But the reasons to do so are clear. Gov. Rosselló has laid out one vision for the island's electric future. Now the Puerto Rican people must pursue theirs.
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