Aware of the problems caused by thermal energy production, the energy co-generator AES Puerto Rico, with a plant in Guayama, will invest $600 million to transform its energy system to begin producing renewable energy on the island ahead of the upcoming transformation of the P.R. Electric Power Authority (Prepa).

The company—which supplies 25 percent of the energy consumed in Puerto Rico—has a co-generation contract with Prepa valid until 2027, and this year it began its energy transformation plan. Jesús Bolinaga, director of AES in the Caribbean, explained to THE WEEKLY JOURNAL that the investment will have been completed by 2023.

"We are presenting green proposals that suppose an investment of $600 million to go from thermal to renewable generation. We are willing to invest money in the island and we are in talks with Prepa to make the necessary progress. This would also contribute to the island being able to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2050," Bolinaga said.

According to the Puerto Rico Energy Public Policy Act (Act 17-2019)—signed by then-Governor Ricardo Rosselló—by 2025, 40 percent of Puerto Rico's energy should be renewable, 60 percent by 2040, and 100 percent by 2050. Presently, only 4 percent is renewable.

"First, this involves an approval by Prepa; after that, a technical study must be done, which is well in advance, to see which is the correct location and that the network is not affected. These projects take time because they have to be done responsibly. You have to invest in renewable generation and when it is consolidating, the thermal begins to decrease," Bolinaga stated.

He detailed that the company, which operates in 15 countries globally, is committed to reducing its carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2022, and 70 percent by 2030. Apart from its thermal generation plant, AES also has a solar plant of 20 megawatts (MW) in the municipality of Guayama.

“Our corporation aims at energy transformation worldwide, but not everything can be done at the same time. Globally, we have 30 gigawatts installed, which is 10 times what Puerto Rico has installed. Of those gigawatts, 10 are from renewable energy and every year we transform between 2 and 3 gigawatts. A third of all the energy produced by the company is renewable," he assured.

According to the AES executive, the $600 million investment is an addition to the roughly $40 million the company invests to improve the generator plant.

Ready for Hurricanes

Meanwhile, Bolinaga told this correspondent that both the solar and thermal plants are ready to take on the present hurricane season. "We are completely ready for the season. We have emergency response plans that had been activated in March," he informed.

"The first phase is the preparations so that the company can face the season, whether it is the purchase of fuel, improve communication, purchase of inventory, among other things. The second allows the improvements that the company has to make to allow business continuity," Bolinaga stressed.

As detailed, as part of the investments to make the system more resilient, the company acquired a turbine at a cost of $20 million that will produce 20 MW and that will allow AES to not have to wait for the power of network to start its auxiliary equipment.

Last Tuesday, the company received a visit from the White House special representative on the island, Rear Admiral Peter Brown; Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González; Prepa Executive Director José Ortiz, and other executives from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), who reviewed the company's readiness for the cyclone season.

Complies with Regulations

Although the operations of its plant in Guayama comply and have complied with all the existing regulations on the island, the ash storage that AES produces has been criticized and pointed out in past years by environmental organizations and citizens of the communities where the ashes are deposited.

In January, Gov. Wanda Vázquez signed a law prohibiting the deposit of coal ash and forcing the company to remove all the ash it produces within a 180-day period from the country, unless it saves these combustion residues in encapsulated silo-type containers.

“The law allows you 180 days of storage. So far we have 90, which is half of what is allowed. We are well below what is required by regulations in Puerto Rico. We continue to look for alternatives to recycle the material because the EPA classifies it as non-hazardous and can be useful for other things," Bolinaga said.

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