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Editorial & Column
Dodging The Bullet; In Memoriam
With The Urban Train, The P.R. Coliseum, And Other Electricity-Hungry Megaprojects Coming Online In The Next Few Months, Experts Wonder Whether Prepas Power Grid Can Handle The Demand
By FRANCISCO JAVIER CIMADEVILLA
September 11, 2003
Dodging the bullet
On Aug. 20, Prepa registered the highest electricity consumption in island history. Prepa officials patted themselves on the back, boasting publicly about meeting the record-breaking demand without a glitch. On closer scrutiny, though, it appears the only reason for celebration is that "we dodged the bullet one more time!"
Barely a week before, eight states along the U.S.s East Coast and large portions of Canadas Ontario province had witnessed the worst blackout in U.S. history. Stateside experts say that as energy demand continues to increase, massive blackouts like the one on Aug. 14 might become common.
In Puerto Rico, Prepas chief, Hector Rosario, did his best to reassure the citizenry that the island wouldnt face such a disaster. He explained that since the islands electric grid is isolated, i.e., isnt connected to neighboring grids, it is less likely to suffer the domino effect which crippled the U.S.s East Coast.
But thats only part of the story. While it is true that Puerto Ricos electrical system cant suffer from the collapse of a neighboring grid, it is bound to feel the pinch of an ever-growing demand that might cause the system to collapse unless additional generating capacity is added quickly.
In the next few months, a number of electricity-hungry megaprojects such as the Urban Train, the Puerto Rico Coliseum, and others will jack up average daily demand. The Urban Train alone will suck up 50 megawatts of juice a day. Were already feeling the pinch. According to reports, the number of service interruptions last year (averaging 13 minutes) was up 33% from 2001. Blackouts arent the only problem. Brownouts, or voltage fluctuations, are worse. When electricity providers, in our case Prepa, have less energy to spare, they allow reductions in voltage, which degrades the quality of the electricity and ruins electrical appliances. Every time you see your lights grow dimmer or your surge protector turn on and off, you know Prepas dodging the bullet once again.
Bottom line, Prepa needs to expand its generating capacity substantially over the next few years to meet projected demand while maintaining a healthy reserve margin to allow for power plants going offline for maintenance and other contingencies.
Following the successful deployment of private co-generation plants EcoElectrica and AES a few years ago, there has been lots of talk but no concrete action on the development of a third cogeneration plant, slated for Mayaguez. But such a project takes years to come online. The time to move on it is now. Otherwise, the reliability of our electrical system will continue to deteriorate until we face a major disaster.
Exactly two years ago today, our country suffered one of the most terrible human tragedies in history.
Like Dec. 7, 1941, a date which has lived in infamy, Sept. 11, 2001 will forever remain etched in our national consciousness.
On Sunday, President Bush reminded the country that the ongoing stabilization and reconstruction effort in Iraq has become and will remain for some time the "central front" of Americas ongoing war on terror.
Just as Puerto Rico had its share of victims at the World Trade Center two years ago, it has shared in our countrys responsibility to help rid the world of the terrorist menace. Seven of the U.S. servicemen who gave up their lives in Iraq this year were from our island.
It is in remembering the many innocent victims of 9/11 that we find the true meaning of our soldiers ultimate sacrifice. Puerto Rico and, indeed, the whole country will forever remain in their debt.
This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.