Massive pipeline proposed by island’s governor triggers fierce debate
By Associated Press, Published: May 14
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico —
Puerto Rico’s governor is proposing to solve soaring energy prices on this oil-dependent U.S. island with a massive natural gas pipeline that would cross some of the territory’s most fragile ecosystems and archaeological sites. Gov. Luis Fortuno has made the $450 million project a central goal of his administration and he insists it is a safe, environment-friendly way to lower utility bills. Critics say the 92-mile (148-kilometer) pipeline will tear up lush green mountains and expose people living near it to deadly explosions.
The pipeline proposal, which Fortuno has dubbed “The Green Way,” also has sparked corruption allegations. The largest contract so far has gone to an engineering firm with no pipeline construction experience that is owned by a childhood friend of the governor. Fortuno has denied any conflicts of interest.
Puerto Rico has long struggled to overcome high power costs and rising world oil prices have hit the territory especially hard; it depends on petroleum to generate nearly 70 percent of its power. Electricity on the island costs about 21 cents per kilowatt hour, compared with an average of 10 cents per kilowatt hour on the U.S. mainland, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The last governor, Anibal Acevedo Vila, proposed a 42-mile (68-kilometer) natural gas pipeline along Puerto Rico’s southern coast, but the $54 million project was scrapped in mid-2009 amid heavy opposition. Fortuno, in the early months of his administration, helped defeat the plan.
This time around, Fortuno is promoting an even larger pipeline proposal, despite similar resistance from activists. Even before he announced the project last August, his administration had awarded about $27 million in contracts — without public bids — for preliminary studies, according to documents filed with Puerto Rico’s Comptroller’s Office.
The documents show the largest contract, worth $9.6 million, went to Ray Engineers PSC, owned by a childhood friend of the governor, Pedro Ray Chacon. Fortuno took a ski trip with Chacon before he became governor, said Ray spokesman Jose Cruz.
While Fortuno has said contracts for preliminary research didn’t require an open bid, senators from the island’s main opposition party are demanding an investigation into how the contracts were awarded. “This entire process raises serious concerns that lacerate the confidence that people have in their institutions,” Puerto Rico Sen. Cirilo Tirado said in a statement.
At least a dozen municipalities have approved resolutions supporting the project in concept, and it has also been touted by the National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce and the local Association of Engineers and Surveyors. “The failure to diversify energy sources has been the kiss of death for Puerto Rico,” said the engineers’ association president, Miguel Torres.
Despite all the political debates, the pipeline only needs final approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has been awaiting studies from the island’s energy authority and analysis from other federal agencies before making a ruling.
Read more: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/massive-pipeline-proposed-by-islands-governor-triggers-fierce-debate/2011/05/14/AFaatU3G_story.html