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$98 million solar project announced for Guayama, Puerto Rico

Admitting that he knows nothing about physical geography, Gov. Fortuño announced Thursday the creation of seven renewable energy projects, including a $98 million  solar energy plant in the southern town of Guayama.
Meanwhile vocal protesters milled about outside the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority headquarters in Santurce  denouncing the proposed gas pipeline and its related “green” projects the government has planned in the delicate northern karst region.
Speaking at La Fortaleza, the governor said the private photovoltaic center will generate solar energy and lots of jobs.
The island’s chief executive also used the opportunity to celebrate what he described as an imminent reduction of at least 20 percent in costs for all PREPA consumers once these proposed energy projects were completed.
With an investment of $98 million, the photovoltaic center is already in its first phases of constructions and is expected to start serving Puerto Ricans in the summer of 2012. The project will be administered and financed by AES Ilumina, a company known for similar projects in the United States, Europe and other areas.
“Today we have a project with an investment of almost $100 million the largest photovoltaic project in the Caribbean and one of the largest in our [U.S.] nation,” said Fortuño. “All of it is being financed by private capital and it would be located on lands in Guayama that the Company of Industrial Public Works sold to the [private] company in charge of running this project.”
With a total of 100, 000 solar panels, the photovoltaic center will generate 20 megawatts of energy, he said. More than 200 jobs will be created during the site construction phase. According to government information, once the center starts operating in the summer of 2012, a total of 6,500 houses will be directly served by the energy the center generates.
“This is the second largest project we have done and the biggest one in the U.S.,” said AES Ilumina CEO Robert Hemphill. “Puerto Rico needs to use less oil and more sun. We have had invaluable help from the governor and from PREPA, our client.”
“Guayama is now known as the Energy City,” said Guayama Mayor Glorimarie Jaime Rodríguez. “I am proud we can serve the rest of the country by providing energy.”
The new photovoltaic site is part of Fortuño’s public policy to develop energy projects that identify sources not dependent on fossil fuels.  This policy contrasts with the proposed pipeline structure, a massive structure that would be based on the consumption of natural gas, an example of a non-renewable fossil fuel.
“On July 19, 2010, I signed an executive order (Ex. Order 2010-34) declaring an energy crisis [in Puerto Rico],” said Fortuño.
“Its purpose was to speed up the permit-related processes and propitiate private investment in renewable energy projects. With it, we seek to increase by 20 percent the production of sustainable renewable energy in Puerto Rico and drastically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels for energy.”
That same executive order 2010-34 was announced by Fortuño, who also signed Law 82 and Law 83 providing the mechanisms to establish a formal public policy for the development of renewable energy projects and the creation of incentives for green energy proposals. Law 83 advocates projects to minimize the environmental impact of current uses and infrastructures related to the consumption of petroleum-derived energy sources in Puerto Rico.
The Daily Sun asked if the government was conducting the appropriate studies to harmonize the search for non-petroleum energy sources with the need not to damage the geomorphology and biodiversity of the areas where the Guayama project and the northern gas pipeline are planned.
 “I am not a geo-physicist, but I trust [the viability of] the environmental impact studies conducted by federal agencies,” said Fortuño.
The first executive questioned the intentions of those groups who ask for cheaper electricity, but oppose some of his “green” projects.
“Do we want cheaper electricity or don’t we?” asked Fortuño. “They oppose everything, but still want a lower electricity bill.”
Pipeline resistance groups start camp in front of PREPA
Insisting the “Vía Verde” (Green Path) gas pipeline projects will not lower electricity costs and represents a serious threat to island environment and biodiversity,   “Casa Pueblo”  ended their protest by establishing a camp. The action arose out of the refusal by the agency’s initial refusal to accept a document in which the protesters symbolically summoned the corporation for its plan to continue with the natural gas project.
“Today we have beat the gas pipeline in PREPA, that is the message,” Casa Pueblo Director Alexis Massol told hundreds of protesters. “We leave satisfied today, but our struggle does not end until the Project is completely discarded.”
Massol, who with his brother Arturo and other protesters waited for an hour to turn in the document, were blocked by state police before a PREPA officer finally agreed to receive the text and to give it to the agency’s directors.
Some protesters demanded the dismissal of members of the PREPA Board of Directors who are currently being investigated by the Department of Justice for alleged irregularities in fund raising for the governing New Progressive Party.
However, PREPA interim Executive Director Otoniel Cruz Carillo said he will not remove any board members from their positions unless they are convicted by the Justice investigation.
“When I receive the investigation report, I will proceed and they [board members] will be removed if they are found guilty. There is a protocol to take care of these situations,” he explained.

 



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