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Does Puerto Rico Need More Natural Gas?

The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) believes that more natural gas-powered capacity will be in the best interest of recovering Puerto Rico’s power grid, Bruce Walker, Assistant Secretary at the Office of Electricity at DoE, said in written testimony before the Committee on Natural Resources at the U.S. House of Representatives.

Puerto Rico’s power system remains vulnerable because of underinvestment, poor maintenance, and damage from Hurricane Maria, Walker said, noting that a DoE analysis of the ways to successful recovery found that increasing natural gas generation capacity would benefit the island.

“The principal finding of DOE’s analysis is the cost and reliability benefits of increasing natural gas generation capacity in the San Juan metropolitan area, to include the current Palo Seco generating site. DOE’s analysis found 1,200 to 1,600 megawatts (MW) of capacity would greatly enhance the reliability and disaster resilience of Puerto Rico’s power system, while lowering power commodity costs island-wide,” Walker said.

The DoE’s analysis and proposal for more fossil fuel-generation capacity comes weeks after the Puerto Rico legislature passed the Puerto Rico Energy Public Policy Act on March 25, setting a renewable energy target for the island to go 100 percent green by 2050, up from the 2-percent renewable capacity installed today. The act—which is pending the signing of the Puerto Rico Governor—also includes provisions supporting distributed generation, the privatization process, and grid resilience.

DoE’s Walker admitted in his testimony that the proposal for more natural gas-powered capacity could be at odds with the island’s push for renewables.

“DOE believes increasing natural gas generating capacity in the San Juan area would be one of the single most valuable investment for PREPA’s long-term recovery. 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 said.

Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rossello said on the day on which the territory passed the renewable target act “Before Hurricanes Irma and María destroyed our island in 2017, close to 50% of the island’s power generation came from oil-burning plants, and 17% came from coal.”

“As set forth in our #PledgeForPuertoRico, we have ambitious plans to transform Puerto Rico’s hurricane-battered electric grid to 100% renewable energy by 2050,” Governor Rossello tweeted.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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