Puerto Rico is poised to join a growing list of nations that generate more than a quarter of its energy from natural gas if Gov. Fortuño is able to develop its proposed Via Verde gas line (Green Way) project.As it was unveiled, Via Verde will supply the island with a cleaner energy source while at the same time reducing the cost of generating electricity up to 30 percent. It will also reduce gas emissions 60 percent while creating 5,000 direct and indirect jobs.The island uses 36,000 million megawatts of electricity annually. Current cost for 1 million BTUs with petroleum burning is $12.25. With Via Verde, the cost would be reduced to $5.15, according to government figures.“This is a vanguard program never attempted in Puerto Rico. It would place us closer to true green energy while at the same time reducing not only the cost of generating energy, but the amount of greenhouse gases we emit,” said José ‘Pinchy’ Torres, a New Progressive Party Representative and the main person behind the administration’s green campaign.The cost of converting the current system to produce gas-generating electricity is estimated at $300 millions.
Facts and mythsThe reality is that of all fossil fuel (coal, petroleum and gas) methods of generating electricity, natural gas is the cleanest. Known as "the prince of hydrocarbons," gas is an increasingly important fuel source in the world energy system.Because it is relatively easy to transport, and to use, cheap and clean, it is considered by many experts as a good way to improve our current energy system in the short run.“It’s a great first step that should at least take us away from our dependence of oil. It will reduce the cost of energy generation and that of gas emissions,” said José Fuentes, an environmental engineer attached to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a non-profit group that monitors energy developments.Fuentes was emphatic that while the conversion from a mainly oil-consuming society to one based on natural gas should be pursued with energy, it should not be the end of the line. “Natural gas is the way to move forward, but more is needed to rid Puerto Rico of its dependence on fossil fuels burning,” he said.As part of the current debate, many pundits had expressed their reservations about operating a natural- gas electricity generating system.Their concerns had arisen from several facts. First is the possibility that the government would not explore other alternative energy-generating options because it had already settled on gas.This is a solid argument, because the current state of Via Verde calls for a 30-year contract to buy natural gas at a rate of $1,000 million per year. With so much money tied up in one source, environmentalists worried that not enough funds will be available to explore other options.Torres, an environmental engineer, himself, disputes this, saying he will work with the Puerto Rico Electrical Power Authority to explore alternative energy options as soon as possible.“[Via Verde] goes hand in hand with our desire to explore alternative means of generating electricity. We are trying to jump-start solar power as well as wind generating electricity mechanism,” Torres said.According to the legislator, PREPA is already discussing the feasibility of installing some kind of wind-powered turbine in the near future. But the technology is still years away from being cost-effective.“Spain and Germany have installed massive solar and wind farms and they are paying a heavy price for it. The technology, unfortunately, is not profitable enough yet to warrant heavy government investment,” he said.Germany carries a €25 billion debt relating to their alternative energy investments while Spain is bleeding a €20 billion cost. Both debts are slated to jump 15 percent in the next fiscal year.There’s also the possibility of a shortage of the source in the near future. Gas is not an abundant source, unlike coal or even oil. While despite years of exploitation and increasing demands, worldwide oil reserves are in abundance, while natural gas deposits are not. In the United States, coal reserves dwarfed that of gas by an almost 3-1 margin.But this is a misleading statistic, according to Fuentes. “Currently, the United States is expected to run out of natural gas in 60 years. However, this is not a locked-in estimate because every other month, a new deposit is found. Plus there’s Russia which is expected to have 10 times the reserves of the U.S. by 2015.”New sources were also found in Mexico and North Africa. If the current situation does not change, natural gas reserves are estimated to expire at some time in the middle of next century.The government’s claim that natural gas is a clean method of producing energy is not accurate either, nor is the statement that it is completely safe.Natural gas is a fossil fuel and so is made up mostly of carbon components. Global-warming emissions from gas burning are much lower than those from coal or oil. Compared to coal, gas produces 43 percent fewer carbon emissions for each unit of energy produced, and 30 percent less than oil.Unlike the massive amounts of ash effluvium from a coal plant, gas also produces no solid waste by-products, and very little sulfur dioxide and particulate emissions.The problem is that gas combustion still produces nitrogen oxides, a cause of smog and acid rain. And while carbon emissions are lower, natural gas itself is a powerful greenhouse gas. Natural gas (methane) is much more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere, 58 times more effective on a pound-for-pound basis.Methane concentrations had increased eight times faster than carbon dioxide, doubling since the beginning of the industrial age. Natural gas use has accounted for about 10 percent of all global warming emissions.It did not take long for many environmentalist groups to voice their concerns about feasibility of the entire project, tagged as another unsafe combustible-burning program and not a green project. Ivette González, a well known environmental activist, declared that the safety of the affected area, despite the proposed security range, is at the forefront of her objection to the entire project.Federal guidelines set a 150-foot perimeter or free residential constriction zone at both sides of the pipeline.“We have to be careful where the pipeline is located. They [lines] are not as safe as the movement wants us to think. That’s one of the many reasons we opposed this project,” she said.Even the Puerto Rican Independence Party raised their objections stating that the burning of natural gas is a ‘discredited form of generating energy which threatens the public safety.’“It is incredible that Gov. Fortuño is insisting once again on building a gas pipeline knowing that it is not a safe method of generating energy, one which could place the residents of the impacted areas in real danger,” said José Dalmau, PIP secretary general.In the United States, there are two million miles of gas- transporting pipelines serving almost 62 million customers. According to the National Transportation Administration, the transfer of gas through the nation’s pipeline system accounts for five deaths a year. By contrast, oil transportation through the same lines averaged two fatalities every 12 months.Miguel Martínez is an environmental advocate and an expert in pipeline-gas transfer, often being called to testify on behalf of the National Transportation and Safely Board.“For me it is a safe environment to transport an energy- producing source. But like all mechanism, is not fail proof. There are risks associated to the transferred of gas including pipeline ruptures,” he said.In 2006, the NTA reported 78 accidents related to gas lines. Many of them, 48, were due to inaccurate excavation procedures. A pinched gas line caused the death of 12 people, including four children in New Mexico in 2000.Others reasons for ruptures include corrosion of the lines, mechanical failures, earthquakes, floods and operator errors. Lines are also subject to acts of vandalism and terrorist attacks. It is worth mentioning that as of 2002, any act against a civil utility facility is punishable under the U.S. Patriot Act.For Torres, this is another trick to divert the attention. “Those accidents happened because corrosion on older pipelines. We here will cover our lines with anti-corrosion coatings. Plus, we will have the most advance monitor systems to track any problems arisen from corrosion or any other problem.”
A different pathRogelio Figueroa is known for many things including founder of a political organization and gubernatorial candidate. However, he is more remembered as a fierce advocate for alternative energy options.“This is a bad plan, a pipe dream," he said. "First, it will destroy the area impacted by the construction of the line. Second, it will not reduce cost; in fact, it will increase it exponentially. And lastly, it will tie us down financially for the next three decades,” Figueroa said.Figueroa argues that during the construction phase, which he claims will last more than two years, debunking another government claim; most of the area impacted by the project and its natural habitat will be destroyed.He also said that no cost will be reduced in the long term. “Its simple math. We are tied up to 30 years at a rate of 1 billion annually. This looks good on paper but because we are a society which is using less energy every year, cost of buying the gas will increase exponentially.”The former Puerto Ricans for Puerto Rico Party leader states that with an investment of $30,000 billion in the next 30 years, there simply will be no money to invest in other, truly green sources.“If we take the money we're investing in this bad program and re-invest it in a renewable energy system, we will not only reduce cost, we'll be generating electricity almost for free,” he said.According to Figueroa, offshore wind farms are one of many ways to move forward. As are grants to persons trying to buy solar energy mechanisms. Currently, a solar kit to power regular, three-bedroom homes cost around $30,000. With Figueroa’s proposal, that cost will be reduced in half.“This is not the way to go. The costs are simply too high at this time. A massive solar array will generate only 50 megawatts a year operating at top capacity. Where will the rest come from?” asked Torres rhetorically.You can find it at: http://www.prdailysun.com/news/Natural-gas-proposal-has-pros-and-cons