The results of today’s elections will play a big role in the Puerto Rico School of Engineers and Land Surveyors’ plans and strategies for the coming year, not only in benefit of the organization’s 11,500 members, but for Puerto Rico in general.
As he enters his second year at the helm of the professional trade group known as the CIAPR by its initials in Spanish, Angel González-Carrasquillo has a long list of priorities that range from lobbying to defend the group’s compulsory licensing to working with the incoming administration on the best way to go about diversifying energy sources.
In an interview with this media outlet, González-Carrasquillo explained that the first order of business would be to lay out suggestions to drive the use of alternative energy sources, especially now that the idea to build a natural gas pipeline across the island is moot.
“We were opposed to the gas pipe from the start and if the government had accepted our suggestion of implementing the use of natural gas delivered from a barge, we would already be seeing the benefit. But they were determined to fight and, in the process, lost two or three years needlessly,” he said.
The plan to anchor barges off the coast of Puerto Rico would provide a more cost-effective and faster way to deliver natural gas to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, known as PREPA, while tugging away from the heavy dependency on petroleum toward cleaner energy sources, he said.
“The two alternatives that we have on the table are the use of barges and smaller ships to deliver natural gas to the energy production plants along the island’s northern coast. The environmental impact will be zero, and that’s what’s important,” González-Carrasquillo said. “The costs to implement this system will be likely close to $1 billion, but the impact on the economy will be direct and fast.”
Using the ‘n’ word
In its platform, the CIAPR has also ventured to use the “n” word — nuclear — as another alternative source for bringing down the island’s astronomical energy costs.
“Nuclear energy, which is not always radioactive or dangerous, as many believe, would be the island’s solution to tackle the intermittence that comes with sun, water and wind sources. It would be a constant source of energy. There are nuclear components that are not radioactive, which is what we’re proposing,” he said.
New nuclear plants are smaller and more technological than those built decades ago, he said, noting that ideal places to build them would be atop one of Puerto Rico’s many neighboring cays. Nuclear energy could conceivably produce power at a cost of 5-cents per kilowatt, about one-fifth of what PREPA currently charges through the grid.
“Mona or Monito would be some of the places we would suggest because the newer plants are smaller, don’t contaminate the environment and produce more energy than their predecessors,” he said.
Acknowledging the government is moving positively along in terms of adopting renewable energy sources, González-Carrasquillo also said that better planning is needed, “because we can’t be covering the island in solar panels, because then you waste the land under and around it.”
“Another proposal we have is to use school and hospital rooftops to install solar panels. The structures would be come self-sufficient and we wouldn’t be covering land in panels,” he said.
Aside from the alternatives for energy diversification, the CIAPR is also proposing overhauling PREPA’s operations so it can properly oversee natural and renewable energy supplies.
“By getting into renewable energy, PREPA would lose revenue, so it would have to be restructured because when it was created it was established that it would neither make nor lose money. It would have to be restructured to be able to manage the new more cost-effective energy options,” he said.
Practicing what they preach
Over the past year, the CIAPR has been putting into action what is has been recommending by retrofitting its regional offices with solar panels and energy-efficient equipment to bring down its power bill while helping the environment.
So far, the trade group has invested about $900,000 to install solar panels atop its Ponce, Mayagüez and Caguas offices, where so far the savings have reached about $3,000 a month, González-Carrasquillo said. At its main Hato Rey headquarters, the savings have been closer to $10,000 a month, representing a 40 percent drop in energy expenses.
“That is quite significant, which is why we recommend it to families and companies. Of the money we invested, we got a rebate through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of between $300,000 and $400,000,” he said. “So that means that what we hoped to recover in five years, we’ll likely see a return on investment on it in 22 months. Any investment of this kind that you can make and recover in less than three years is pretty incredible.”
Next up are the CIAPR’s offices in Arecibo, Humacao and Guayama, which will split $250,000 to install solar panel systems at each of the facilities starting early next year, he said, adding the branches are used by members as well as the general public during conferences and other free events.
Also high on the CIAPR’s agenda for this year is standing behind its belief that Puerto Rico’s engineers and land surveyors must be licensed and affiliated to the trade group, something a large segment of the island’s Legislature is against.
“Oftentimes, the government sees professional schools as enemies or watchdogs, and it shouldn’t be that way. On the contrary, we consider ourselves advisors to the government. They believe that by eliminating compulsory licensing, they silence our voice,” González-Carrasquillo said, reaffirming his conviction that professional certifications remain mandatory.
There are some 23 professional organizations in Puerto Rico, of which 11 are on a list of potential groups that could be stripped of their licensing requirement.
“We’re not on that list, but we defend the rights of other organizations to require licensing. While that’s not something that is mandatory in the U.S. mainland, compulsory licensing is obligatory in other countries, like Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Canada,” he said. “Being licensed has its benefits, as the parent organization will defend members legally and extend other privileges that would likely be too expensive or unavailable to individuals professionals.”
Gov. Luis Fortuño’s administration brought up the issue of knocking down licensing, so today’s electoral results will play a heavy part in how that will be handled from here on, he acknowledged.