A partnership between energy developer, EcoElectrica, and the Puerto Rican government seeks to build a massive 93-mile natural gas pipeline that will cut directly through the interior of the U.S. island territory. The governor’s office and the Puerto Rican Power Authority (PREPA) are touting the economic benefits that this massive project will bring to the poverty-stricken island. While these supposed benefits vary depending on who you are asking — and what side of the argument they are on — one fact remains strikingly clear: an overwhelming majority of Puerto Ricans on both the island and the mainland oppose this project and are calling for cleaner energy alternatives. Jorge Madrid and Brennan Alvarez of the Center for American Progress have the story.
Officially named Via Verde (Green Way) by the government, the proposed pipeline has been dubbed Via de la Muerte (Death Route) by its opponents, prompting protests and petitions to stop it. A recent poll conducted by El Nuevo Dia (one of Puerto Rico’s largest news outlets) indicates that 70 percent of citizens oppose the construction of the pipeline, 61 percent are “very worried” about the safety of this project and its impacts, and 56 percent of people are not convinced that the pipeline will achieve its primary goal of reducing the cost of electricity, compared to 27 percent who believe that it will.
Earlier this year, 30,000 Puerto Ricans took to the streets in protest, including a broad coalition of labor groups and community organizations. The opposition has spread across the Atlantic to Puerto Rican activist groups in New York, and highly popular Puerto Rican Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) has elevated this issue, calling on the Army Corps of Engineers to halt this “extremely unpopular” project.
Despite the large public outcry, Puerto Rican governor Luis Fortuño continues to make a case for the project. “With Vía Verde we will enter a new energy era that strengthens the competitiveness of our economy and improves the quality of life of our people,” Fortuño said, calling the high price of energy the main obstacle to the island’s economic and social development.
Just last month Daniel Pagán, an engineer from PREPA, claimed that Via Verde would cut electricity cost by 30 percent, reduce emissions by 60 percent, and generate 4,500 new jobs. The project is also expected to decrease the island’s oil dependence to 12 percent of power generation by 2012, while boosting natural gas usage to 71 percent from its current 15 percent, according to PREPA projections. Currently, the island produces about 70 percent of its power from imported oil, with the rest split evenly between natural gas and coal.
These claims by PREPA have been refuted by researchers from the University of Puerto Rico, however. Most notably, data released from a 2011 study that concludes the best case scenario for Vía Verde will provide savings of only one cent per kilowatt-hour. (In its own estimation, PREPA suggests that the savings are in the order of 12 cents per kilowatt-hour).
Still, for an island with an unemployment rate of nearly 15 percent, where 48 percent of residents live in poverty, and the average family makes only $17,184 while paying double the U.S. rate for energy, the promise of new jobs and a reduction in energy costs is a welcome.
But the story is much more complex. Read more