At a time when the role of the Puerto Rico Energy Commission is more necessary than ever due to the announced privatization of the Electric Power Authority (PREPA), the actions taken by the Executive suggest that its intention is to reduce its powers or dismantle it, experts agreed yesterday.
As an independent body created by Law 57 in 2014, the Commission has the responsibility to regulate, supervise and enforce energy public policy. That includes establishing rules in relation to electricity service -public and private- companies on the Island, to guarantee the capacity, reliability, security, efficiency and reasonable rates of the system.
Yesterday, the interim chairman of the Commission, José H. Román, admitted that, in a private market -like the one proposed by Governor Ricardo Rosselló-, "the regulator has more claws" than in a public one.
It would be expected, then, for the Commission to retain or increase its powers under the scenario posed by the governor, in which private companies would take over the generation and other would be hired for the transmission and distribution infrastructure that today belongs to the government.
But, in the opinion of the environmental sociologist Marla Pérez Lugo, what the Executive is promoting is just the opposite. She referred to the reorganization plan presented by Rosselló, which would attach the Commission, along with other telecommunications and transport units, to what would be the new Public Service Regulatory Board.
"Placing the Commission under an umbrella removes execution capabilities. Doing so opens the way for private entities, which are already very few, to basically do whatever they want to do. Without a strong entity that supervises private entities, then, there is a big problem," said Perez Lugo, a member of the Steering Committee of the National Institute of Energy and Island Sustainability (INESI, Spanish Acronym).
In similar terms, the associate director of the community organization Casa Pueblo, Arturo Massol, said that "the government is throwing in the towel and admitting that it will not assume the responsibility of leading the destiny of energy on the island."
He added that removing powers or dismantling the Commission "could be a serious mistake, because the least the government can do is maintain a structure that defends the public interest."
For his part, the director of the environmental organization El Puente (“The Bridge”): Latino Climate Action Network, David Ortiz, said that Rosselló " has shown, since he won the governorship, that he disagrees with the Commission."
He mentioned, for example, that he has not appointed a president in office since Agustín Carbó resigned last April, and that he insists on building the Aguirre Offshore GasPort even though the Commission determined that the project is not cost efficient.
Likewise, he said that this month, he filed a bill to provide PREPA with liquidity, which would empower the public corporation to sign agreements and use the money “without being necessary” for the Commission to give its consent. If approved, it would revoke the order that the Commission gave to PREPA in November: to include in all its contracts a clause that stipulates that the agreement will not come into effect until authorized by the regulatory body.
"These actions are an affront to the Commission, which has been working well in recent years. The PREPA cannot be dismantled and privatized. Those plans have to be rejected,"said Ortiz.
Meanwhile, Roman, whose term in the Commission expires in May, was thin in his expressions on these issues.
"We endorse, receive and adopt any measure of progress in the energy market," he said about the work of the Commission, adding: "We are willing to help with the transition and contribute with the regulatory framework so that appropriate results are achieved."
He stressed that "it is necessary to maintain a regulator in a private market", and indicated that, as it is created, the Commission "meets the requirements" of an independent regulatory body.
"It is important that these regulatory powers are preserved to maintain a fair and reasonable market, both for investors and owners of private energy and for consumers. The public interest has to be always protected" he said.