While opponents of the ash deposit at a landfill in Peñuelas objected to the use of coal as a fuel for electricity generation, the government emphasized the importance of the Applied Energy Systems (AES) plant for the energy stability of the Island.
The executive director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), Ricardo Ramos Rodríguez, warned specifically that, without AES charcoal power generation, the electricity rate will increase by 2.5 cents per kilowatt-hour.
As he explained in writing, such AES production would have to be replaced by some of the generation units that are currently shut down, among other things, because of their high cost of production, as they use petroleum derivatives as fuel.
"AES is the most economical energy producer in the fleet connected to PREPA. Its absence would force us to use diesel units to replace much of its generation, which would increase the cost of electricity for all our customers by 15%. This does not include the costs associated with the potential blackouts that would cause the output of this cogenerator, "he said.
For opponents, however, such "price stability" has potential health costs for people and communities who somehow come into contact with coal ashes, which they estimate to be toxic.
Juan Rosario, ex representative of customers in PREPA governing board, on admits, on one hand, the importance of energy production made by the AES and, on the other hand he considers that the charcoal ashes they generate are highly damaging for human beings.
“The problem here is that they (the AES) had made a performance that they were going to take the ashes away from the Island, but now they want to change the rules. We cannot be the hostages of this situation, nor of the deficient regulations of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)”, he said.
With this last phrase he referred to the sampling protocols used by the EPA to determine whether the ash is toxic or not. Rosario opined that these processes are discredited among the scientific community.
“I do admit that the (AES) plant is important to the system. But I do not know whether it is indispensable or not, because PREPA has lost a lot of consumption and I ignore if that operation is needed or not”, he added.
The installed capacity in Puerto Rico is estimated in about 5,838 megawatts, including the AES plant. However, the power requirements are around 2,600 megawatts.
“If wanted, almost the double of energy that is actually consumed could be produced. The problem is that many of the units of PREPA are out of service or have overdue maintenance and cannot be activated. On top of this, if they turn those plants on, the bill would be more expensive, since the costs increase depending on the fuel that is being used”, said Enid Monge, ex representative of commercial and industrial consumers in the governing board of the public corporation.
“It is a shame, because many of those plants could have been changed to gas years ago, but it was not done”, added the businessman.
Ramos Rodríguez, meanwhile, emphasized that if AES power production stops, blackouts will increase and the maintenance program for PREPA units will be distorted. This, because it would be necessary to use excessively low efficiency units in the production of electricity.
He also indicated that, without AES, the risk to environmental fines increases for PREPA, as many of the plants that would have to be used to replace energy production do not meet EPA standards, especially emissions in the air.
“AES is one of the few plants established on the Island that complies with EPA environmental standards”, he stressed.
The problems in relation to the ashes generated by AES operation started many years ago, when the company stopped exporting the waste to other countries, as it has initially agreed and started to manage disposal in local landfills, particularly in Peñuelas and Humacao.