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Puerto Rico: Deciding Its Energy Future

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The immediate energy nightmare in Puerto Rico is gradually winding down, with electrical power now available to about 90 percent of households (some rural areas are still without power). But it’s clear to nearly everyone that a reversion to the island’s previous energy status quo is not a viable option: Puerto Rico has no developed local energy resources, and most of its electricity is generated by burning imported oil. Its utility company, PREPA, is billions of dollars in debt and famously inefficient. The island is clearly at a crossroads with regard to its energy future.

Predictably, some top Republican lawmakers are proposing to privatize PREPA and switch power generation to natural gas. Investors could build a liquid natural gas hub on the island, along with pipelines and generating stations. The project could bring in revenue by re-exporting gas to other islands in the Caribbean.

The arguments for the proposal have been carefully thought through—up to a point (more on that point later!). After all, natural gas is cheaper than oil and produces lower carbon emissions. And the privatization of PREPA, which has filed for bankruptcy, seems highly likely if not inevitable.

Nevertheless, there are other proposals on the table. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, or IEEFA, thinks PREPA could transition to renewables—including rooftop and utility-scale solar. And Tesla has offered its solar power unit as a long-term solution to the island’s energy woes. José H. Román, interim president of the Puerto Rico Energy Commission, agrees with the solar microgrid vision for his country’s future.

There are lots of good reasons to go for renewables. And there is one reason not to opt for natural gas, which almost nobody is talking about: while supplies of the fuel are abundant today, we should not assume this will be the case much longer. Armed with the best proprietary drilling-and-production database in existence, David Hughes of Post Carbon Institute has carefully analyzed the shale gas boom for the past several years, and argues persuasively that the boom is in fact a short-term investment bubble. Production from individual wells tends to fall off rapidly, requiring constant high rates of drilling to avert field-level production decline. Only “sweet spots” within productive regions have any hope of being profitable, and those small areas are being saturated with wells. The early shale gas plays are already long past their peak rates of production, and the biggest, the Marcellus, is nearing its own turnover point.

This information changes everything, not just for Puerto Rico, but for the United States as a whole. Over half of U.S. natural gas production currently is from shale resources, and the mainland has therefore bet its electricity future largely on natural gas. That will in all likelihood turn out to be a catastrophic choice. Despite its economic and other challenges, Puerto Rico is now in a position to decide its energy future. It doesn’t have sunk investments in natural gas infrastructure. It knows first-hand the consequences of climate change, and can choose an energy path that does not exacerbate global warming and therefore sea-level rise and more powerful storms. It can learn not only from its own past mistakes, but from the mainland’s as well. Radical energy efficiency together with distributed renewables is the only option that won’t lead to yet another disaster.

richard heinberg



28 Comments on "Puerto Rico: Deciding Its Energy Future"

  1. Go Speed Racer on Fri, 25th May 2018 8:38 pm 

    The energy future of Puerto Rico,
    is they won’t have any.

  2. Outcast_Searcher on Sat, 26th May 2018 1:49 am 

    Given that Puerto Rico is bankrupt and now has the credit reputation, roughly, of Greece, shouldn’t an important question about the solution be what it will cost? And another be who will and should pay for it?

    It’s real easy to say what one thinks should ideally happen when one isn’t footing the bill.

  3. GregT on Sat, 26th May 2018 2:54 am 

    “Given that Puerto Rico is bankrupt and now has the credit reputation, roughly, of Greece, shouldn’t an important question about the solution be what it will cost? And another be who will and should pay for it?”

    Is Puerto Rico not an American commonwealth?

  4. Davy on Sat, 26th May 2018 3:08 am 

    “Is Puerto Rico not an American commonwealth?”

    Dah//?

  5. Davy on Sat, 26th May 2018 3:27 am 

    Visualizing U.S. Energy Consumption in One Chart
    https://tinyurl.com/y7oe9b6s

    “Every year, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a federal research facility funded by the Department of Energy and UC Berkeley, puts out a fascinating Sankey diagram that shows the fate of all energy that gets generated and consumed in the United States in a given year. Today’s visualization is the summary of energy consumption for 2017, but you can see previous years going all the way back to 2010 on their website.”

  6. Davy on Sat, 26th May 2018 4:00 am 

    “Odd and Dangerous Mekunu Bears Down on Oman”
    https://tinyurl.com/yb4vywrp

    “This year, two tropical cyclones have sprung up in the Western Arabian Sea. A region where, according to our understanding of climate, “storms do not form.” Well, the climate has clearly changed. Because a storm is raging there now. And for Oman today, these changes bring with them serious threats to life and property.”

    “The region near Salalah Oman that the storm is barreling toward — typically receives just five inches of rainfall per year. But Mekunu could deliver two to five times that amount (or more) in just a few days. Moreover, the flat coastal plain is backed by mountainous terrain to the north. The higher land produces lift that will intensify expected rainfall. And current models predict that more than two feet of water (24 inches) could fall on up-sloping regions facing Mekunu’s advance.”

  7. deadly on Sat, 26th May 2018 4:44 am 

    If you ain’t got electricity, you are part of the solution and no longer part of the problem. Zero demand has to be an economic credit.

    If you use no electricity, you can qualify for a zero demand credit. The US Treasury will issue checks to those who use no electricity. If the average monthly use has a cost of 75 dollars, those who use no electricity will be paid 900 dollars each year.

    The poor slobs who can’t afford electricity deserve some credit, another guaranteed income credit. If you are homeless, go to a federal building anywhere, there will be a check there for you.

    1300 dollars per annum per capita in a guaranteed income trust fund can keep the oil corporations and utilities solvent.

    A guaranteed income trust fund can help the bottom line for energy producers.

    Everybody needs to contribute their fair share, if you can’t, the gov will foot the bill.

    Kind of like SNAP, the supplemental fuel assistance program.

    Wal-Mart benefits from SNAP, the oil companies can benefit from a supplemental fuel assistance program then too.

    Puerto Ricans can benefit by using no electricity and no fuel.

    It is time to pay people for not consuming fossil fuels.

    They’ll finally be able to afford to buy electricity and some gas, for gosh sakes, everyone has to have equal opportunity.

    Those who can’t afford electricity and fuel need the money to buy usable energy.

    At least 500 USD per month, nobody will be losing money, the profits will always be there for everybody.

    Sunken ship treasures are the collateral along with your money. That’s where the money is, in your pocket.

    All your money to us belong.

    At least you have a 1300 dollar guaranteed income credit, the gov will confiscate the credit and distribute to those who need to benefit the most.

    That means not you.

  8. Cloggie on Sat, 26th May 2018 5:09 am 

    In Puerto Rico the sun always shines:

    https://weather-and-climate.com/average-monthly-hours-Sunshine,San-Juan,Puerto-Rico

    Solar energy, a no-brainer for Puerto Rico.

    Wind resource: onshore poor, offshore good

    https://windexchange.energy.gov/maps-data/328

    Water depth?

    https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy15osti/62708.pdf

    Potential 840MW, installed 125MW

    Highest elevation: 1,339 meter

    So potential for hydro-storage exists. And since sunshine is very predictable, you do not need seasonal storage, a few days is enough.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puerto_Rico

    Population: 3.3 million, density 375/km2

    In a couple of years solar will be cheaper than fossil, so the energy future of Puerto Rico is, um, bright:

    https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/01/renewables-will-be-equal-or-cheaper-than-fossil-fuels-by-2020-according-to-research

  9. Go Speed Racer on Sat, 26th May 2018 5:13 am 

    Those who don’t use any fuel, aren’t doing
    their patriotic duty to use up energy.

    Even if they can’t afford a car, they could pour a few gallons onto a gravel road, and put a lighter to it.

    When they won’t burn fuel then the rest of us have
    to cover for them, by burning even more.

  10. baha on Sat, 26th May 2018 6:08 am 

    Why does everyone sit around and wait for the entity known as ‘Puerto Rico’ to make their decisions for them. Take control of your own future energy needs and make your own decisions.

  11. twocats on Sat, 26th May 2018 7:23 am 

    http://www.visualcapitalist.com/visualizing-u-s-energy-consumption-one-chart/

    you beat me to it Davy. I liked the chart in this article because it shows the two year trend, which although is great percentage wise is terrible in absolute terms.

    this is why penny stocks make and lose people so much money. its also why we probably won’t be able to transition in time.

    as for puerto ricos “debt” although the truth is hidden behind a lot of racist propaganda its pretty clear (for many reasons) that Puerto Rico is akin to a colony

    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/25/opinion/hurricane-puerto-rico-jones-act.html

    but now the US is having trouble profiting from its colony – so its abandoning it. this is the trend of the future – the once-exploited soon to become the wholly abandoned. hard to tell which is better.

  12. Davy on Sat, 26th May 2018 7:28 am 

    Yeap, Twocats, economic abandonment, dysfunctional networks, and irrational policy are blatantly apparent the world over. It is just a matter of time.

  13. Davy on Sat, 26th May 2018 7:37 am 

    “Raúl Ilargi Meijer: This Is The End Of The Euro”
    https://tinyurl.com/yaou4tu4

    The Spanish political crisis is inextricably linked to the Italian one, not even because they are so much alike, but because both combine to create huge financial uncertainty in the eurozone. Sometimes it takes a little uproar to reveal the reality behind the curtain. Both countries, Italy perhaps some more than Spain, would long since have seen collapse if not for the ECB. In essence, Mario Draghi is buying up trillions in sovereign bonds to disguise the fact that the present construction of the euro makes it inevitable that the poorer south of Europe will lose against the north. Club Med needs a mechanism to devalue their currencies from time to time to keep up. Signing up for the euro meant they lost that mechanism, and the currency itself doesn’t provide an alternative. The euro has become a cage, a prison for the poorer brethren, but if you look a bit further, it’s also a prison for Germany, which will be forced to either bail out Italy or crush it the way Greece was crushed. Italy and Spain are much larger economies than Greece is, and therefore much larger problems. Problems that are about to become infinitely more painful then they would have been had the countries been able to devalue their currencies.

    “The euro has entirely outlived its purpose, and then some. But it exists, and it will be incredibly painful to unravel. The new game for the north will be to unload as much of that pain as possible on the south. Europe would have been much better off of it had never had the euro. But it does. The politicians and bankers will make sure they’re fine. But the people won’t be. The euro will disappear because the reasons for it not to exist are much more pressing than for it to do. At least that bit is simple. The unwind will not be.”

  14. JuanP on Sat, 26th May 2018 8:33 am 

    I like Cloggie’s ideas and I think something like that would be a best case scenario. Puerto Rico needs to stop importing fossil fuels, very particularly oil. Renewable microgrids, renewables, reduced consumption, and storage are where it’s at. This not only applies to Puerto Rico, but the whole world, particularly most of its islands.

    Spending billions on LNG infrastructure in Puerto Rico at this time would be completely insane. A new energy plan for PR would be a positive consequence of this disaster.

    Puerto Rico is, of course, brutally overpopulated and its population needs to be reduced drastically.

  15. Cloggie on Sat, 26th May 2018 8:59 am 

    Ah yes, Davy has spend an hour searching for articles opining that the euro will go extinct and for the umptieth time arrived at Nicole Foss…

    https://goo.gl/images/7kQWL4

    …a woman of British extraction, who like the majority of the British, hope that the Anglos will keep their supremacy over the continentals and know how to convert their hopes into predictions. Davy: everything Nicole Foss says is true.lol

    Is Italy going to leave the euro, perhaps, but I doubt it:

    https://www.statista.com/statistics/691225/attitude-towards-the-european-union-eu-italy/

    The euro, like the Deutschmark, is seen as a currency for winners, the shabby lira not so much. Even if the lira would return, the euro would remain part of Italian economic life, as a means for foreign payments, as no self-respecting country will accept being paid in Polish zlotty, Ukrainian grivna, Israeli shekels, Russian rubles… or Italian lira.

    But I remain confident that Italy will remain a core European country and keep the euro.

  16. MASTERMIND on Sat, 26th May 2018 9:18 am 

    Renewables are not renewable, they are derivatives..And look what happened to PR solar panel farms after the hurricane? They got totally demolished and ruined..Solar is a scam..The New York Times has been promoting solar as the energy of the future since the 1950’s..

    Air Pollution Casts Shadow over Solar Energy Production
    http://pratt.duke.edu/about/news/solar-pollution

    Desert sun in Qatar too hot for solar panels to work
    https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/desert-sun-in-qatar-too-hot-for-solar-panels-to-work-h23kmktbp

    Renewable energy ‘simply won’t work’: Top Google engineers
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/11/21/renewable_energy_simply_wont_work_google_renewables_engineers/

  17. MASTERMIND on Sat, 26th May 2018 9:27 am 

    Clogg

    It doesn’t matter how cheap renewable s become if they are worthless and produce hardly any energy..Humans have never gone from a high energy density source to a lower one.. I can’t believe you spend every day on this blog..Everyone refutes anything you claim very easily..You obviously were not born with one of those white high iq’s..

  18. Cloggie on Sat, 26th May 2018 9:41 am 

    “It doesn’t matter how cheap renewable s become if they are worthless and produce hardly any energy..Humans have never gone from a high energy density source to a lower one..”

    You are comparing apples and pears. Try to refute this: a standard 5 MW offshore wind turbine generates the equivalent of 1 million barrel of oil throughout its lifetime of 30 years. What do you mean “not dense”?

    https://deepresource.wordpress.com/2017/01/07/gold-mine-north-sea/

    The only parameter that matters is EROI. Currently large offshore wind has an eroi of 54, admittedly without storage:

    https://deepresource.wordpress.com/2017/09/05/eroi-of-offshore-wind-power-continued/

    But if you apply power-to-heat (thanks Antius)…

    https://deepresource.wordpress.com/2018/05/22/power-to-heat/

    …you can convert renewable electricity in heat, using heat pumps, that can be stored in the longer term, without significant losses.

  19. Cloggie on Sat, 26th May 2018 9:46 am 

    “Renewable energy ‘simply won’t work’: Top Google engineers”

    For two failed programmers from Google I can point at the economic and technological powerhouse that is the EU of 500 million and premiere address of science and technology, who say that it can be done.

    https://cleantechnica.com/2018/01/06/44-wind-denmark-smashed-already-huge-wind-energy-records-2017/

  20. MASTERMIND on Sat, 26th May 2018 9:49 am 

    Clogg

    wind can’t substitute for oil because wind produces electricity, and oil is used for transportation.. You are the one comparing apples to rocks..again..And posting links to your own blog where you block out any comments is laughable..And we have done studies that conclude how long it will take to replace oil and fossil fuels..We don’t have to just wonder into out space..

    UC Davis Peer Reviewed Study: It Will Take 131 Years to Replace Oil with Alternatives
    (Malyshkina, 2010)
    http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es100730q

    University of Chicago Peer Reviewed Study: predicts world economy unlikely to stop relying on fossil fuels (Covert, 2016)
    https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/jep.30.1.117

  21. MASTERMIND on Sat, 26th May 2018 9:52 am 

    Clogg

    stop spamming this board with fake news from big tech websites that want to push their advertisers products..

    IT TAKES OVER 150 WIND TURBINES (1.5 MW models) TO PROVIDE THE MINIMAL POWER NECESSARY FOR 1 SHOPPING MALL -Rutgers Physics
    https://www.physics.rutgers.edu/~matilsky/windmills/shopping.html

    150 wind turbines for one shopping mall…INSANE!

  22. Cloggie on Sat, 26th May 2018 10:06 am 

    Jeez, the good folks of Rutgers can’t even produce a readable website, let alone a simple calculation.

    Since when does a shopping mall needs 150 x 1.5 ME = 225 MW. Take into account a capacity factor of 0.5 for offshore wind to arrive at 112 MW. For a shopping mall of 112 shops that would imply 1 MW per shop!!!

    Wtf needs a stupid shop 1 MW for?

    A few lights, muzak installation, airco, that is 2 kW, or 500 times less than 1 MW.

    You are an idiot millimind.

  23. MASTERMIND on Sat, 26th May 2018 10:18 am 

    Clogg you are going to die from conflict or starvation within the next decade..

    IEA Chief warns of world oil shortages by 2020 as discoveries fall to record lows
    https://www.wsj.com/articles/iea-says-global-oil-discoveries-at-record-low-in-2016-1493244000

    According to the German Army leaked study. When the oil shortages hit, Wall street will crash, the public will lose all faith/trust in their institutions, and the global economy and world governments will collapse..
    http://www.energybulletin.net/sites/default/files/Peak%20Oil_Study%20EN.pdf

    Scientific American: Apocalypse Soon: Has Civilization Passed the Environmental Point of No Return?
    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/apocalypse-soon-has-civilization-passed-the-environmental-point-of-no-return/

    Inside the new economic science of capitalism’s slow-burn energy collapse (Ahmed, 2017)
    https://medium.com/insurge-intelligence/the-new-economic-science-of-capitalisms-slow-burn-energy-collapse-d07344fab6be

    Peer Reviewed Study: Society Could Collapse In A Decade, Predicts Historian (Turchin, 2010)
    https://www.nature.com/articles/463608a

    NASA Peer Reviewed Study: Industrial Civilization is Headed for Irreversible Collapse (Motesharrei, 2014)
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921800914000615

    The Royal Society: Peer Reviewed Study, Now for the First Time A Global Collapse Appears Likely (Ehrlich, 2013)
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3574335/

    Peer Reviewed Study: Limits to Growth was Right. Research Shows We’re Nearing Global Collapse (Turner, 2014)
    https://www.scribd.com/document/379418787/Is-Global-Collapse-Imminent-An-Updated-Comparison-of-The-Limits-to-Growth-with-Historical-Data-Turner-2014

    Peer Reviewed Study: Financial System Supply-Chain Cross-Contagion: Global Systemic Collapse (Korowicz, 2012)
    http://www.feasta.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Trade-Off1.pdf

  24. Free Speech Forum on Sat, 26th May 2018 4:46 pm 

    Government laws lead to more crime. If only murder and theft were illegal, obeying the law would be easy, but no one respects the law when everything is illegal.

    Most of the problems of today would be solved by embracing what worked in the past.

    People were born in the past without birth certificates.

    People could travel without passports.

    People can learn how to drive without driver licenses.

    People could travel without being groped by the TSA.

    The government does not need to wiretap people.

    Businesses that do not have business licenses will go bankrupt if they provide bad service.

    People will not starve if they do not have food stamps.

    People can find cheap doctors in the world without Obamacare.

    People will not have a vested interest in driving dangerously if there are no liability insurance laws.

    People could carry guns, no one had Social Security numbers, and there were no sales, income, or property taxes in the past.

    Drugs, alcohol, smoking, gambling, prostitution, sodas, protesting, and mosques were legal before, why can’t they be legal now?

    The US did not torture in the past, why does the US need to torture now?

    The USA had open borders before, why must the US have closed borders now?

    If self-serve gas stations can be legal in one place, why can’t they be legal everywhere?

    If seeing eye dogs are legal in restaurants, why can’t all dogs be legal in restaurants?

    Would crime rise if everything was legal?

    Why do you need the government anyway? Can’t you talk to people who bother you? Could you sue someone? Could you just move away? Can’t you protect yourself?

    Think.

    A free country that went to war with a evil dictatorship should not become a police state. Thieves cannot take the moral high ground and criticize robbers.

    The USA is an immoral bankrupt warmongering police state now.

    Americans have learned nothing from history.

    Americans have no rights anymore and the US is no longer a democracy.

    Americans think every problem should be solved by decree and force now, but every solution causes another problem.

    Americans think the government is made up of holy men. Americans think anyone becomes a saint when they wear a costume, badge, and a gun.

    The solution for problems should be what worked in the past.

    Americans say that rent control should be used to reduce high rents instead of reducing regulations.

    When regulations lead to a bad economy, Americans think that the homeless should be put in jail and businesses should be given bailouts.

    Instead of allowing people to feed the homeless, Americans think feeding the homeless should be outlawed.

    Instead of getting rid of welfare that encourages girls to marry the state instead of a man and leads to broken families, Americans think food stamps should be expanded.

    Instead of getting rid of minimum wages that cripple the ability of the US to compete on the world market, Americans think the US should increase the minimum wage and start a trade war by enacting tariffs.

    When food stamps lead to increased debt, Americans think that taxes should be raised.

    Americans think the only way to attend college is to have student loans, but student loans raise the cost of tuition.

    Instead of ending wars that lead to terrorism, tyranny, debt, and refugees, Americans think that the wars should be increased.

    Instead of arresting sex traffickers, Americans would rather shut down free speech and prostitution.

    Americans would rather ban video games instead of arresting murderers.

    Instead of allowing the free market to decide what companies are good, Americans would rather shut down monopolies.

    Instead of educating people, Americans would rather jail people for using their own property in the wrong way.

    Central planning has failed everywhere. China used to encourage people to have kids, but after China became overpopulated, China had an one-child policy.

    The USA is supposed to be a free country. The reason the Americans fought the British was because Americans wanted to be free.

    When our overlords make a decree, they always sell it as a minor temporary law that only affects Muslims, junkies, sex offenders, homosexuals, illegal immigrants, or blacks. The 1% doesn’t mention that the law will become permanent and more draconian.

    No one cares if owning cows are illegal, yoga pants are illegal, teen driving is illegal, or smoking is illegal. The problem is what happens when your job is banned, the government steals your house, tortures your family, or sends you to the concentration camps.

    Are you just going to take it?

    If tyranny is so wonderful then why do people try to escape North Korea?

    Would you rather be locked in a padded room wearing a strait-jacket and have safety or be homeless on a mountain and have freedom?

    The elites are trying today to make Americans dependent children by outlawing everything and giving them food stamps. Once Americans are weakened and the US Ponzi economy implodes, the ruling class will then send the 99% off to the gulags to be starved and killed.

    Governments are not kind. Governments have killed millions of people in Nazi concentration camps, Soviet gulags, the Chinese Great Leap Forward, and the Cambodian killing fields.

    Liberty is not something that only benefits other people, but not you. Freedom benefits everyone.

    Tyranny is not something that only punishes other people, but not you. Tyranny punishes everyone.

    Freedom is good.

    Tyranny is bad.

    This is no joke.

    History repeats and the signs are everywhere.

    Anyone who supports the government is just a tool of the elites.

    Wake up.

  25. fmr-paultard on Sat, 26th May 2018 5:19 pm 

    there’s no wind power in puerto rico because there’s no landmass. supertard’s state has offshort and onshore wind because it is part of continental us and texas is big.

    the wind battery of puerto rico has no negative (or positive) electrode because land mass is too small.

  26. Cloggie on Sat, 26th May 2018 10:33 pm 

    “the wind battery of puerto rico has no negative (or positive) electrode because land mass is too small.”

    I never looked at it this way, paultard.

    Or will.

  27. MASTERMIND on Sat, 26th May 2018 11:47 pm 

    Clogg

    Paul tard is a bot..Jesus Christ you and Greg are so fucking dumb, you both are old as shit and don’t know anything about technology..

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