Friday, April 8, 2011

Dreaming of a Greener Future

April is Earth Month, and I couldn't help but think of a trip I took to Costa Rica a few years back. While traveling along a highway, I was struck by the wind turbines I saw from afar. Said to be the "greenest and happiest country on earth,"turns out that this tiny Central American country is the first in its region to build a wind farm. Remarkably, it has pledged to be the first carbon neutral country by 2021 and many believe that the Costa Ricans will indeed be able to meet this goal. It is estimated that 80% of its energy already comes from renewable sources, such as wind, solar and water. The diametric opposite of Costa Rica would be Puerto Rico. As I've mentioned in a previous entry, about 70% of the island's energy comes from petroleum and a mere 1% comes from renewable sources. With the uprisings in the Middle East and oil prices at an all time high, the current average is just over $1.00 per liter (about $3.79 per gallon) of premium on the island, such a phenomenon will further erode the economy and hurt consumers.

Gov. Fortuño had declared "a state of energy emergency" last year, and has been ferociously pushing for the construction of a 91 mile gas pipeline as a solution to help ease the island's dependence on oil. The Fortuño Administration's goal is to help diversify the island's energy portfolio by increasing the usage of renewable energy resources to 12% by 2015 and eventually to 20% by 2025. Although the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently approved the gas pipeline ("el gasoducto") project, it has been mired in controversy. Construction has not begun as it has been denounced as environmentally hazardous, and has led many to question its safety and decried its cost-savings. To his credit, Fortuño is not entirely banking on the gas pipeline.

To help the island wean itself from using oil as its primary energy resource, a wind farm, the island's first, in Santa Isabel, and a waste-to-energy plant in Arecibo are currently in the pipeline. The government is also testing the possibility of converting algae into oil. These are some of the initial steps that Puerto Rico has undertaken to help meet those renewable energy goals. Disappointingly, the island is only the fifth largest solar thermal producer in the U.S (Spain is the worldwide leader), despite all the sun we get! Needless to say, the island has a very long way to go in achieving energy efficiency. It is playing catch-up in a world well-aware of the fact that oil is a finite resource, and the future lies in renewable energy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One of the few things the government has done right has been to offer tax credits for people who install solar in their home. A couple years ago the tax credit was 75% which made it doable but still not really worth it if you aren't a big user of electricity. Where they went wrong though was in all the paperwork required to get the tax credit (CRIM, Hacienda, and a zillion other agencies that needed to sign off) and the fact that only 40% of people here work (therefor the tax credit doesn't help). The few that benefited from this program unfortunately were engineers who could design and install their own systems and who knew people who could sign off on the project. Not many solar installers on the island.