Puerto Rico’s Unfinished Business After Hurricane María


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It has been a little over a year since Hurricane María fractured Puerto Rico’s infrastructure and its demographic and economic landscape. Currently, all the critical infrastructure—electricity, water, telecommunications, schools, and hospitals—is functional. The enormous effort and the amount of hard work put into removing millions of cubic yards of debris; patching up the electrical grid and the water treatment system; putting hospitals in working order; temporarily fixing damaged housing; among a host of other emergency response activities, sometimes under conditions dangerous to life and limb, should be acknowledged and recognized by one and all.

However, a year after the storm a kind of nervous normalcy prevails in the island and while the amount of work that has been done since last year should not be dismissed, it is important to understand the magnitude of the task at hand and the challenges that lie ahead. The island’s economic fundamentals remain fragile, the electrical system is unstable, the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority still needs electrical generators to back-up critical water pumps, and despite an effort from all sectors to be vigilant and prepared for another natural disaster, there is significant uncertainty as to how well equipped the central government and its municipalities are to face another storm.

Furthermore, federal funds allocated thus far will not be sufficient to successfully rebuild Puerto Rico’s infrastructure. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), using a model designed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has acknowledged that total damages could add up to approximately $90 billion in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. By the end of the 2018 federal fiscal year, estimates of funds appropriated for Puerto Rico disaster relief still range anywhere from $33 to $45 billion, or about half of what is anticipated to be necessary. And when compared to the total funds allocated to address the 2017 natural disasters, the amount obligated by FEMA’s individual assistance programs for Hurricane Maria’s disaster victims has been significantly lower than the portion obligated for victims of Hurricane Harvey or Hurricane Irma.

As noted throughout the report, Puerto Rico’s current situation is extremely complex, a fact that should be considered and addressed early in the recovery process, before making decisions that could have permanent and damaging social and economic implications. Fully understanding the current lay of the land is important because Puerto Rico is the only jurisdiction, to the best of our knowledge, tosimultaneously go through a bankruptcy procedure, a twelve-year economic recession, a fiscal and debt crisis managed under the purview of a congressionally-mandated oversight board, and a large-scale recovery process after a massive natural disaster.

In sum, the report seeks to frame Puerto Rico’s recovery process by providing a snapshot of where the island is today and how much federal money has been allocated, casting light on some of the reconstruction challenges, and igniting a discussion on the options available for a sustainable recovery. It is the first of a series that CNE intends to produce with the goal of educating policymakers about the nuances and complications they will face when designing long-term solutions for the island.

 

Read the report here: 

 

 

 

 



 

Hace poco más de un año que el huracán María quebró la infraestructura de Puerto Rico y su panorama económico y demográfico. En estos momentos, toda la infraestructura crítica ‑—electricidad, agua, telecomunicaciones, escuelas y hospitales— funciona. Debemos todos reconocer el enorme esfuerzo y arduo trabajo realizado, en ocasiones arriesgando la vida y la integridad física, para recoger millones de yardas cúbicas de escombros; reparar la red de distribución eléctrica y el sistema de tratamiento del agua; poner a los hospitales a funcionar; y hacer reparaciones provisionales a las viviendas dañadas, entre un sinnúmero de otras actividades de respuesta ante la emergencia.

No obstante, a un año de la tormenta, en la Isla se respira una especie de normalidad ansiosa y, aunque no debemos minimizar el trabajo que se ha hecho desde el año pasado, es importante comprender la magnitud de las tareas y los retos que tenemos por delante. Las bases económicas de la Isla siguen frágiles, el sistema eléctrico sigue inestable, la AAA todavía necesita generadores eléctricos para operar las bombas de agua y, a pesar del esfuerzo de todos los sectores por estar alertas y preparados para otro desastre natural, existe mucha incertidumbre con respecto a cuán capacitados están el Gobierno central y los municipios para capear otra tormenta.

Por otro lado, los fondos federales asignados hasta ahora no serán suficientes para reconstruir cabalmente la infraestructura de Puerto Rico. La Agencia Federal para el Manejo de Emergencias (FEMA), empleando un modelo diseñado por la National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), ha reconocido que los daños totales podrían alcanzar cerca de $90,000 millones en Puerto Rico y las Islas Vírgenes. A fines del año fiscal federal 2018, los estimados de fondos autorizados a Puerto Rico para ayuda para catástrofes todavía oscilan entre $33,000 y $45,000 millones, o alrededor de la mitad de lo que se calcula que será necesario. Y cuando se compara con el monto total de fondos asignados para afrontar los desastres naturales de 2017, la cantidad que los programas de asistencia individual de FEMA han obligado para las víctimas del huracán María ha sido significativamente más baja que la porción obligada para las víctimas del huracán Harvey o el huracán Irma.

Según se señala a lo largo del informe, la situación actual de Puerto Rico es extremadamente compleja, hecho que debe tomarse en consideración y con el que se debe lidiar en los inicios del proceso de recuperación, antes de tomar decisiones que podrían tener repercusiones sociales y económicas dañinas y permanentes. Comprender cabalmente la situación es importante porque, hasta donde sabemos, Puerto Rico es la única jurisdicción que ha experimentado, simultáneamente, un proceso de bancarrota supervisado por un tribunal, una recesión económica de doce años; una crisis fiscal y de deuda manejada bajo la incumbencia de una junta de supervisión impuesta por el Congreso, y un proceso de recuperación a gran escala después de un desastre natural inmenso.

En resumen, el informe busca situar el proceso de recuperación de Puerto Rico ofreciendo un panorama de dónde está la Isla hoy y cuánto dinero federal ha sido asignado, arrojando luz sobre algunos de los retos de la reconstrucción y provocando una discusión en torno a las opciones disponibles de recuperación sustentable. Es el primero de una serie que el CNE se propone producir con el propósito de concienciar a quienes toman las decisiones acerca de las sutilezas y complicaciones con las que tendrán que lidiar al diseñar las soluciones de largo plazo de la Isla.

 

Lea el informe completo aquí:

 

 

Transforming the Recovery into Locally-led Growth: Federal Contracting in the Post-Disaster Period

 

 

 

 

 

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In the wake of the devastation resulting from hurricane María, the United States Federal Government mobilized numerous emergency relief efforts in Puerto Rico. Traditionally, Federal disaster response has been thought of as the “silver lining” that stems from a catastrophic event, given the millions of US Government dollars that are pumped into the local economy. 

The report examines Federal post disaster expenditures and the sectors and companies being contracted. Our primary findings suggest that Federal relief and recovery spending in Puerto Rico is mostly being used to contract mainland US firms. Moreover, existing trends signal that local economic development opportunities stemming from post disaster funding are possibly lower than expected. 

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De resilencia a resistencia

 

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Los desastres naturales mayormente destruyen, pero también generan nuevos vocabularios que incluyen un revoltijo de acrónimos, y toda clase de conceptos técnicos que los sobrevivientes tenemos que aprender y asimilar rápidamente, como el término “resiliencia”. A pesar de que numerosos científicos y planificadores ambientales han definido, estudiado y debatido la capacidad de resiliencia en Puerto Rico por años, la palabra se ha popularizado rápidamente, no solo entre los círculos académicos, sino también en las narrativas de los oficiales públicos locales, en la mojiganga de los comentaristas de noticias y en los relatos de los medios noticiosos. Su notorio alcance demuestra un deseo común de querer armar una historia de superación, y revela nuestra afición por hablar con urgencia sobre la redención, especialmente luego de haber sobrevivido dos huracanes y apenas sobrellevar un período de recuperación catastrófico, marcado por la improvisación y el desdén colonial.

La “resiliencia” también se ha convertido en un término casi omnipresente entre los que ostentan el poder porque les permite referirse al trauma e incesante sufrimiento asépticamente, sin sentimentalismos y cursilerías. Con una palabra, pueden afirmar que nos cayeron a golpes, pero no nos rompieron el espinazo y notificarle al resto del mundo que vamos ripostar y a “build back better” para revertir los nefastos efectos de un shock climatológico.

Según argumentan los planificadores Larry Vale y Thomas Campanella en el capítulo final del libro titulado “The Resilient City: How Modern Cities Recover from Disaster”, las narrativas de la resiliencia son políticamente necesarias porque los desastres desafían la competencia y la autoridad de los gobiernos que prometen cuidar nuestras vidas y procurar nuestra seguridad. Concebir a la reconstrucción como un relato de progreso y perseverancia ante la adversidad le sirve al estado para fortalecer su legitimidad, especialmente luego de un evento devastador que desestabiliza la infraestructura política y social. La retórica de la resiliencia, como nos recuerdan los autores, “no está exenta de la política, el interés propio o la discordia”. En los períodos post desastre, los gobiernos de turno —y el nuestro no está exento— usualmente aspiran a que los ciudadanos no se quiten, que se levanten y sigan hacia delante para que no se enfusquen en la angustia que generan el desbarajuste de los servicios básicos y la avalancha de fallas sistémicas.

De igual manera, los hombres y mujeres de negocio desean que el mundo sepa que están “open for business” y se esmeran en sustituir las imágenes del territorio a oscuras con campañas de publicidad que resaltan las oportunidades que surgen ante la adversidad. Pero, ciertamente, no todo el mundo se levanta, sigue pa’lante o mantiene la calma. Los pobres, los marginalizados y los desposeídos, aquellos que continuamente se enfrentan y combaten diversos shocks y estresores, rara vez son llamados a definir la narrativa oficial de la resiliencia. Ante esta situación, numerosos colectivos levantan la voz para denunciar cómo el discurso del “comeback” o el “Puerto Rico se levanta” les sirve a aquellos que buscan acallar los llamados urgentes a resistir, particularmente cuando los ánimos están caldeados y la gente está dispuesta a salir a la calle.

Comúnmente financiadas por entidades foráneas que buscan ejercer algún nivel de control e influencia, las campañas enfocadas en promover la resiliencia también son parte del vasto catálogo de enfoques e ideas que transitan, principalmente del Norte hacia el Sur, y forman parte de lo que la teórica Ananya Roy llama las “prácticas mundializantes de la planificación”. Estas prácticas se pueden entender como modelos o conocimientos especializados que sirven para avanzar soluciones que se supone que le brinden orden al caos o traigan la belleza a los paisajes reventados. Usualmente, las trafican poderosos actores globales, como empresas consultoras, entidades filantrópicas y otras instituciones multinacionales que operan en lo que los geógrafos Jamie Peck y Nik Theodore llaman “fast policy worlds”. Los actores que circulan en estos circuitos de peritaje global se caracterizan por recetar ideas y políticas prefabricadas e implementar soluciones experimentales en diversos escenarios locales. Visto desde este crisol, el vuelco reciente hacia la resiliencia forma parte de una larga tradición experimental boricua.

Desde los programas de modernización que comenzaron en la década del 1940 —que sirvieron para ensayar, con empresas estatales, la exportación de mano de obra excedente a través de la migración, y campañas de esterilización—hasta la creación del Estado Libre Asociado a mediados del siglo XX y la reciente imposición de una Junta de Control Fiscal bajo la Ley PROMESA, Puerto Rico ha servido como laboratorio social y político para numerosos intereses globales y coloniales. Lejos de identificar tratamientos fructíferos que sirvan para aliviar algunos de nuestros males, los grandes experimentos ejecutados en la isla, en su mayoría avanzados durante períodos de crisis, han hecho poco para atajar la pobreza, o contrarrestar la creciente desigualdad y corrupción.

Volviendo al auge de la resiliencia, queda claro que en su nombre se tratará de imponer e implementar prototipos y proyectos ideados por los mercaderes de ideas que navegan las aguas globales y recién desembarcan en la isla. Pero, distinto a lo que plantean sus críticos más acérrimos, no creo que la resiliencia sea un enfoque inútil o nocivo. El largo camino hacia la recuperación y la reconstrucción de la isla se puede emprender solamente si las comunidades y sus residentes logran sobrevivir y recuperarse luego de una catástrofe. Durante los pasados meses, hemos sido testigos de las gestiones solidarias e innovadoras de numerosos colectivos comunitarios que demostraron una capacidad impresionante para responder a emergencias, restablecer ciertos servicios básicos y crear redes de apoyo mutuo para hacerle frente a la dejadez y al deterioro de la capacidad gubernamental. Tomando en cuenta esas experiencias aleccionadoras, me parece que la resiliencia nos sirve para reflexionar sobre nuestros límites, y así inspirarnos a cuestionar y movilizarnos en contra de las asimetrías de poder, hacer valer nuestros derechos e, incluso, provocar que practiquemos la resistencia. 

 

Por: Deepak Lamba-Nieves

El autor es Director de Investigación y el Churchill G. Carey, Jr. Chair del Centro para una Nueva Economía. Esta columna fue publicada originalmente en El Nuevo Día el día 29 de julio de 2018.

 


 

Natural disasters mostly destroy, but they also generate new vocabularies that include an alphabet soup of acronyms and all sorts of technical concepts that we survivors have to quickly learn and assimilate—concepts, for instance, like “resilience.” Although many environmental scientists and planners have defined, studied, and debated the degree of resilience in Puerto Rico for years, the word has swiftly gained great popularity not only within academic circles but also in the narratives of local public officials, the gobbledygook of talking heads, and articles and stories in the press. The term’s widespread use denotes a shared desire to see in our situation a story of a people overcoming terrible, spirit-breaking hardship and reveals a tendency in us to speak with urgency about redemption and rebirth, especially after having survived two hurricanes and only barely, only now, almost a year later, emerging from a period of catastrophic recovery marked by improvisation and colonial disdain.

The word “resilience” has also been adopted almost universally among those who hold power because it allows them to refer to trauma and ongoing, incessant suffering aseptically, without apparent sentimentalism or affectation. With a single word, they can say that we have been battered and beaten but our backs have not been broken and they can tell the rest of the world that we are going to come back, “build back better,” and reverse the terrible effects of a climatological shockwave.

As planners Larry Vale and Thomas Campanella argue in the concluding chapter of their book “The Resilient City: How Modern Cities Recover from Disaster,” narratives of resilience are politically necessary because disasters defy the competency and authority of the governments that promise to care for our lives and protect our safety. Conceiving reconstruction as a story of progress and perseverance in the face of adversity helps the state strengthen its legitimacy, especially after a devastating event that destabilizes the political and social infrastructure. The rhetoric of resilience, as the authors remind us, “is never free from politics, self-interest, or contention.” In the weeks and months after a disaster, elected governments—and ours is no exception—make efforts to encourage their citizens not to “quit,” to get back up on their feet, to move forward, move on, so as not to fall into the anguish generated by a lack of basic services and cascading failures.

Likewise, business owners want the world to know that they’re Open for Business, as their signs say loud and clear, and they do all they can to supplant the images of an island in the dark with advertising campaigns that highlight the opportunities that arise out of adversity. But not everybody gets back on their feet, or forges ahead, or Keeps Calm and Carries On. The poor, the marginalized, and the dispossessed, those who constantly face and struggle against harshest shocks and stressors, are almost never those who define the official narrative of resilience. Given that situation, many collectives have raised their voices to alert us to the fact that the discourse of “comeback”—“Puerto Rico se levanta” (Puerto Rico is getting on its feet again)—serves mostly those who seek to silence the urgent calls to resist, particularly when tempers are hot and people are ready to take to the streets.

Generally financed by off-island entities who seek to exercise some degree of control and influence, campaigns focused on promoting resilience are also part of the vast catalog of approaches and ideas that circulate in the world, mostly from the Global North to the South, and form part of what theorist Anaya Roy has called “worlding practices of planning”. These practices can be understood as models of “specialized knowledge” that serve to advance solutions that will—supposedly—bring order to chaos, and that paint destroyed landscapes in the colors of hope and uplift. They are usually hawked by powerful global actors such as consulting companies, philanthropic organizations, and other multinational institutions that operate in what geographers Jamie Peck and Nik Theodore call “fast policy worlds.” The actors who circulate in these circuits of global expertise are characterized by their prescriptions of prefabricated ideas and policies and their implementation of experimental solutions in a wide range of local scenarios. Seen from that point of view, the recent turn to “resilience” is part of a long tradition of experimentation in Puerto Rico and on Puerto Ricans.

From the modernization programs that began in the 1940s—which served to test, with state corporations, the idea of exporting excess labor through migration, not to mention sterilization campaigns—to the creation of the Commonwealth (the Estado Libre Asociado, or “Free Associated State,” perhaps the most cynical mistranslation for the purposes of deluding multitudes ever recorded) in the mid-twentieth century and the recent imposition of a Financial Oversight and Management Board under the law whose acronym is (also perhaps cynically) PROMESA, Puerto Rico has served as a social and political laboratory for many global and colonial interests. Far from being truly and broadly fruitful solutions that have helped alleviate our hardships, the grand experiments carried out on the island, most of them advanced during periods of crisis, have done little to lessen poverty or counteract growing inequality and corruption.

But to return to the boom in the use of the word “resilience,” it is clear that in its name there will be attempts to impose and implement prototypes and projects thought up by the idea merchants who sail the global oceans and have recently disembarked on the island. But unlike some of their fiercest critics, I for one do not think that “resilience” is a futile or harmful idea. The long path toward the recovery and reconstruction of the island can be traveled successfully only if our communities and their residents manage to survive and bounce back after a catastrophe. During the past months, we have witnessed innovative action, stemming from a deep solidarity with those affected, by almost countless community groups and collectives who have demonstrated an impressive ability to respond to emergencies, reestablish (or reinvent) certain basic services, and create mutual-support networks, all this to substitute for the government’s inactivity, flailing in the dark, and apparent inability or incompetency. Taking these instructive experiences into account, it appears to me that resilience might help us reflect on our limits and thereby become inspired to question who and where we are, and to mobilize against the asymmetries of power, assert our rights, and even become engaged in necessary acts of resistance.

By: Deepak Lamba-Nieves

The author is the Policy Director & Churchill G. Carey, Jr Chair at the Center for a New Economy. This column was originally published in El Nuevo Día on July 29, 2018.

Puerto Rico: Black Start 2019

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El huracán María devastó el sistema de energía de Puerto Rico. Después de la tormenta, la isla esencialmente ha tenido que reactivar su sistema energético del equivalente de lo que en la industria se llama un “blackstart”, que es el término técnico que describe el proceso de reactivar el sistema de generación energética luego de un apagón total.

A la misma vez, el sector de energía en todo el mundo está cambiando rápidamente a medida que nuevas tecnologías que son incompatibles con el paradigma centenario de generación, transmisión y distribución de energía entran en funcionamiento. Debemos aprovechar esta coyuntura, la destrucción casi total del sistema de energía en Puerto Rico y los adelantos tecnológicos en este sector, para traer al siglo 21 el anquilosado sistema eléctrico de la isla. Dicho de otra manera, debemos utilizar el “blackstart”, no para reconstruir el sistema energético a su estado al 19 de septiembre de 2017, sino para dar un salto cualitativo de envergadura.

Para que el sector de energía lleve a cabo con éxito la transición a un nuevo modelo de hacer negocios será necesario desarrollar una nueva visión del sistema, enmendar leyes y reglamentos, actualizar las redes de transmisión y distribución y fomentar el uso eficiente de la energía por parte de los consumidores. Esta es una tarea difícil, pero afortunadamente abundan los recursos para orientar a los legisladores, reglamentadores y las compañías de energía en este proceso.

El primer paso …una nueva visión

El primer paso en este complicado camino es desarrollar una nueva visión para el sector energético de Puerto Rico. Desarrollar esta visión requiere pensar más allá de los confines de la isla, pero tomando en consideración y entendiendo a fondo las limitaciones y retos que enfrenta Puerto Rico. Además, se necesitará legislación de avanzada para implementar esa visión y establecer lineamientos claros para los reglamentadores con respecto a los objetivos ambientales, los estándares de energía renovable, la eficiencia energética y el manejo de la demanda por energía.

El modelo de reglamentación también tendrá que evolucionar de uno basado en planes de recursos integrados a largo plazo a uno basado en una supervisión más proactiva con respecto a la utilización eficiente de los recursos y más dinámica en relación a los distintos actores y participantes en el sector energético. Esto significa que los reglamentadores deberán implementar un modelo de reglamentación basado en el desempeño (“performance-based regulation”), establecer parámetros transparentes para la rendición de cuentas, así como incentivos (y sanciones) para lograr los objetivos de la política energética.

Nuevas estructuras tarifarias

Las nuevas estructuras tarifarias deben diseñarse para: (1) enviar las señales de precio correctas tanto a los generadores como a los consumidores; (2) promover la eficiencia energética; (3) manejar eficientemente la carga base y la demanda pico; (4) fomentar la transición a la interacción bi-direccional entre los operadores de la red y los clientes que instalen capacidad de generación distribuida; y (5) implementar tarifas basadas en el momento del uso de la energía para fomentar la eficiencia y la optimización del uso de los recursos. Además, se deberá promover la implementación de nuevas normas energéticas para el diseño de edificios, facilitar el financiamiento para la retro-adaptación de estructuras existentes para fomentar la conservación de energía y promover el uso de enseres electrodomésticos eficientes para estabilizar el consumo residencial.

La generación de energía

En términos de generación, las grandes instalaciones de generación con ciclos de recuperación de la inversión de más de 30 años son cada vez más una cosa del pasado. Mientras, la construcción de unidades de generación tradicional más pequeñas y altamente eficientes, ampliamente distribuidas en las áreas de servicio para suplir la carga base, se está convirtiendo rápidamente en una alternativa tecnológicamente factible y rentable. Complementar este modelo con soluciones de generación renovable y tecnologías de almacenamiento para proveer reservas, otros servicios auxiliares y carga adicional en las horas pico, no solo es eficiente, sino que puede ayudar a proporcionar un servicio con menos interrupciones y más costo-efectivo para todos los clientes.

La transmisión y distribución

Por el lado de la transmisión y distribución, la red deberá evolucionar para incorporar de manera eficiente y confiable la generación distribuida, el uso de baterías a nivel de la red, así como al detal, para permitir el almacenamiento de electricidad cuando no se requiera su uso inmediato y así promover y aumentar el valor de los recursos de generación intermitente. Además, el rápido crecimiento del mercado de automóviles eléctricos crea el potencial de demanda adicional, presumiblemente fuera de las horas pico, lo que ayudará a estabilizar la demanda por una carga base que se proyecta a la baja en los próximos años. Los automóviles eléctricos también funcionarían como una solución de almacenamiento y podrían descargar energía a la red cuando surjan usos más valiosos para esa carga. Ahora bien, todo esto implicaría hacer inversiones de capital en áreas no-tradicionales dado que los automóviles eléctricos necesitarían estaciones de carga ampliamente disponibles y accesibles a través de toda la isla.

Flexibilidad

Por último, dados los efectos previsibles del rápido e inminente cambio climático, la red del siglo 21 tiene que ser lo suficientemente flexible para incorporar micro y mini-redes que puedan conectarse y desconectarse de la red principal, según sea necesario, para asegurar que las instalaciones de infraestructura crítica (hospitales, bombas de agua, telecomunicaciones etc.) tengan un respaldo adecuado en caso de desastres para proteger a las comunidades aisladas de interrupciones prolongadas de esos servicios y limitar los impactos a la salud y al medio ambiente.

Estos temas los estaremos explorando durante la conferencia sobre El Futuro de la Energía, convocada por el Centro para una Nueva Economía para principios del 2019. Además, analizaremos el rol de las instituciones académicas en la transformación energética de Puerto Rico; la necesidad de atraer capital en condiciones competitivas; así como oportunidades de investigación y desarrollo y el impacto del rediseño del sector energético de Puerto Rico sobre el desarrollo económico de la isla.

El autor es el Director de Política Pública del Centro para una Nueva Economía.

Esta columna fue publicada originalmente en El Nuevo Día el 17 de junio de 2018.

Pendientes a Puerto Rico: Black Start 2019, si aún no lo ha hecho puede registrarse aquí.

 

 

 

Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico’s energy system. After the storm, the island essentially has had to re-activate its energy system from the equivalent of a system-wide “blackstart”, which is the technical term for restarting an energy system from a complete shutdown.

At the same time, the energy sector world-wide is rapidly changing as new technologies come online and challenge the existing 100-year old model of generating, transmitting, and distributing energy to various classes of customers with different needs. Puerto Rico should take advantage of this synchronicity—the almost total destruction of its energy system and the technological advances in this sector—to upgrade its ankylosed electric system to 21st century standards. In other words, we should use the current blackstart-like situation to make a quantitative jump, instead of just restoring its energy system to its pre-Maria status.

In order to successfully make the transition to a new business model for the energy sector, it will be necessary to develop a new energy vision, amend several laws and regulations, upgrade transmission and distribution systems and encourage the efficient use of energy by end customers. This is a tall order, but fortunately resources abound to guide policymakers, regulators and utilities in this process.

The first step … a new vision

The first step in this complicated pathway is developing a new vision for the Puerto Rico energy sector. Charting this vision requires thinking beyond the confines of Puerto Rico, but with a clear understanding of the island’s limitations and challenges. In addition, new legislation will be needed to mandate the implementation of that vision and to set clear targets for regulators regarding environmental objectives, renewable portfolio standards, energy-efficiency goals, demand response and peak load management.

Regulation models will also have to evolve from long-term planning cycles to more proactive supervision regarding the efficient deployment of new resources and more dynamic oversight of the growing number of stakeholders in the energy sector. To accomplish these objectives, regulators will need to shift to performance-based regulation and set transparent accountability metrics, as well as incentives (and penalties) to achieve policy objectives.

New tariff structures

New tariff structures need to be designed to send the right price signals to both generators and customers, promote energy efficiency, manage baseload and peak demand, encourage the transition to bi-directional interaction between grid operators and customers deploying distributed energy resources and to establish block and time-of-use rates to encourage efficiency. In addition, new building design standards, access to finance energy-conservation retrofitting, and the adoption of consumption-reduction technology for households should also be widely encouraged.

Energy Generation

Large generation facilities with 30-plus-year investment recovery cycles are increasingly a thing of the past. On the other hand, building smaller, highly efficient traditional generation units, widely-distributed across the service areas to support baseload demand is quickly becoming both technologically feasible and cost-effective. This model, coupled with increased renewable generation/storage solutions to provide reserves, other ancillary services and additional load at peak times, is not only efficient, but can provide extremely reliable service, with lower outage rates, and lower costs for all customers.

Grid designs will also have to evolve to efficiently and reliably incorporate distributed generation, grid-scale and customer-owned battery storage units to allow the storage of electricity when not required for immediate use and thereby promote and enhance the value of environment-friendly intermittent generation resources. In addition, the rapidly growing market for electric cars creates the potential for additional demand, presumably at off-peak hours, therefore stabilizing baseload requirements that are forecast to decline in the coming years. Electric cars are also a storage solution that could discharge energy back to the grid when that charge has other more valuable uses. However, this would also entail making capital improvements outside the traditional utility paradigm, given that electric cars would need widely available and accessible charging stations throughout the island.

Flexibility

Finally, given the foreseeable effects of rapid and impending climate change, the grid of the 21st century has to allow for the incorporation of micro and mini-grids that can connect and disconnect from the main grid as needed to ensure critical infrastructure has adequate back-up in the event of natural or man-made disasters, to protect isolated communities from prolonged service outages, and to limit health and environmental impacts.

These are some of the themes we will be exploring during the “Future of Energy Conference”, convened by the Center for a New Economy for the first quarter of 2019. In addition, we will analyze the role of academic institutions in Puerto Rico’s energy transformation; the need to attract new capital at competitive terms; as well as research and development opportunities and the economic development impact of redesigning Puerto Rico’s energy sector.

The author is Policy Director for the Center for a New Economy

This column was originally published in El Nuevo Día on June 17th, 2018

Lookout for Puerto Rico: Black Start 2019, if you haven’t register to receive information please do so  here.

 

Ponencia ante la Comisión Especial de Asuntos de Energía del Senado de P.R. para Transformar el Sistema Eléctrico

Expediting the Recovery Process: A Proposal to Create a Puerto Rico Development Authority

Introduction

Puerto Rico is at a critical junction in the disaster recovery process after Hurricane María. Relief efforts, while still ongoing in certain parts of the island, are slowly winding down and soon will give way to recovery activities and the rebuilding of the island. It is, therefore, “a time of desperate loss, yet also a time of distinct possibility.”1

The commencement of the recovery process is crucial to making the most of that “time of distinct possibility”, as research carried out after similar disasters has found that the time between the beginning of the relief efforts and the beginning of the recovery process is highly correlated with the length of the recovery, as well as with the severity and duration of public health and economic impacts of the disaster on the population as a whole.2 So, it is in the best interest of all stakeholders to move the recovery efforts forward as soon as possible.

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Puerto Rico’s Pension System: Knocking on Heaven’s Door

This post was originally published on January 27, 2011.

Introduction

The Employees Retirement System of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (the “ERS”) is a trust created by Act 447 of May 15, 1951 to provide pension and other benefits to retired employees of the government of Puerto Rico and its instrumentalities. According to the Management’s Discussion and Analysis included in the ERS’s most recent financial statements, the system “since its inception lacked proper planning.”1 The problem was (and to a certain extent still is) that the level of both employer and employee contributions was relatively low and was not actuarially determined, while the level of benefits was statutorily defined and bore no relation to employee contributions or to the investment yield of the systems assets.

In 1973 the benefit structure was “enhanced” without enacting a corresponding increase in contribution levels. As government employment increased in the mid-to-late 1970s, partially in response to the general economic slowdown, the gap between the assets available to pay benefits and the actuarial obligation began to widen.

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Roundtable discussion on the future of Puerto Rico’s economy

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Roundtable discussion on the future of Puerto Rico’s economy

USA Congress

On July 18, 2017 CNE’s Policy Director Sergio Marxuach participated in a bipartisan roundtable discussion in the US Congress on the future of Puerto Rico’s economy at the invitation of Rep. Nydia Velázquez, Ranking Minority Member of the House Committee on Small Business. Below is a summary of CNE’s testimony as well as a link to the unabridged version of the document submitted by CNE.

ACCESS HERE THE COMPLETE TESTIMONY

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this Roundtable to Discuss the Future of Puerto Rico’s Economy. My remarks will cover three topics. First, I will briefly discuss the impact of the enactment of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (“PROMESA”). Second, I will stress the need for policy initiatives at the Federal level to help Puerto Rico end its current downward economic spiral and jumpstart economic growth in the short-term. Finally, I will outline the work of the Growth Commission convened by the Center for the New Economy to develop a long-term economic growth strategy for Puerto Rico.

1. PROMESA
The enactment of PROMESA in June 2016 opened a new chapter in U.S.-Puerto Rico relations. After decades of benign neglect, Congress recognized in 2016 that it has a moral obligation under the U.S. Constitution to foster the welfare of the U.S. citizens that live in Puerto Rico. This means that it is in Congress’s own interest to see through that Puerto Rico is successful in addressing its current fiscal and economic crisis.

Unfortunately, some of the policy tools set forth in PROMESA are not working as expected and may hinder the island’s ability to escape its current economic death spiral.

First, the imposition of a Fiscal Oversight Board over the duly elected government of Puerto Rico—with broad powers over the island’s fiscal and economic policies, authority to command the implementation of its recommendations, and the capacity to prevent the enforcement or execution of otherwise valid contracts, executive orders, laws or regulations—has seriously undermined the island’s political institutions, already extremely compromised by clientelism, partisan politics and corruption.

In addition, the Fiscal Oversight Board has added a new layer of opacity to fiscal policymaking in Puerto Rico. The discussions among Board members have been carried out mostly behind closed doors, while interactions between the Board and the Government of Puerto Rico tend to be summarized ex post, usually through succinct letters written in rather cryptic language. It is quite ironic that the Fiscal Oversight Board, which, among other things, was given the task of increasing the transparency of Puerto Rico’s finances, has actually contributed to worsening that problem.

Second, the benefits of PROMESA’s complicated territorial debt restructuring process, which combines principles drawn from both the U.S. Bankruptcy Code and from the realm of sovereign debt restructuring, remain fairly uncertain and contingent on the successful implementation of a completely new and untested legal framework for territorial bankruptcy. The risk if this experimental framework fails to adequately address Puerto Rico’s debt restructuring needs is magnified by the fragile state of the Puerto Rican economy, which has already undergone a protracted decade-long contraction.

2. Jumpstarting the Economy – The Federal Component
Moving on to growth, Puerto Rico needs to devise and execute a complex, two-prong strategy to restore economic growth. First, we have to jumpstart economic growth in the short-term. Second, the island needs to formulate an economic development plan to sustain that growth over the long-term, something it has failed to do for quite some time.
This already difficult task is further complicated by the austerity policies the Fiscal Oversight Board has required Puerto Rico to implement. The certified fiscal plan orders the island’s government to implement large expenditure cuts, significant tax increases, and deep structural reforms without access to any short-term financing.
The implication of the Fiscal Oversight Board’s policy posture is that—unless Congress is otherwise willing to address a full-scale social crisis in Puerto Rico—Federal assistance will be necessary to jumpstart economic growth in the short-term. Congress needs to implement a comprehensive economic program, remove some of the disadvantages imposed on Puerto Rico under the current political arrangement, and eliminate some long-standing inequitable and discriminatory policies. The current situation simply does not allow for piecemeal action by Washington, a wide-ranging plan is needed.

A short-term economic program for Puerto Rico at the Federal level should include for example, providing additional funding for healthcare, extending the EITC and the CTC to Puerto Rico, preserving social safety net programs, and increasing funding for education, infrastructure, and research.

3. The CNE Growth Commission – The Local Component
In addition to initiatives at the Federal level, Puerto Rico needs to craft a local long-term economic development strategy and strengthen its execution capabilities.
Achieving long-term, sustainable economic growth and development is a complex endeavor that requires a new set of strategies and the rebuilding of institutions; thus, there are no quick fixes or silver bullets. In other words, economic growth is not simply a function of exiguous regulation, low wages, or preferential tax treatment. Rather, the process of growth is quite complicated, involving the interplay of many variables and factors that must be present if a country is to succeed.
As a first step in charting the road towards sustainable economic development, the Center for a New Economy has undertaken the task of empaneling the CNE Growth Commission for Puerto Rico.

The Commission will work towards (1) identifying and suggesting ways to relax local and external constraints that inhibit the territory from speeding up the process of economic structural change towards higher productivity activities; and (2) generating opportunities to diversify the portfolio of high productivity activities in the economy. Specifically, the Commission will focus on the following areas with the potential for high impact:

  • Area 1: Identifying Sectorial Opportunities
    Using cutting-edge product space analysis the Commission will identify new products and services that could augment aggregate value through the use of existing productive capabilities embedded in the island’s current production structure. This methodology operationalizes the idea that it is generally easier for countries to move from products and services that they already produce to others higher in the value chain that are similar in terms of capital requirements, knowledge, and skills. Because not all feasible new products contribute in the same way to value added and growth, a key challenge along the diversification process is the identification of those goods and services that are feasible and have a higher potential to sustain economic development.
  • Area 2: Horizontal Reforms to Enhance Competitiveness
    At the same time, the Commission will identify opportunities for effective policy reform in areas with the potential to enhance the competitiveness of local and multinational producers across multiple sectors, such as: tax and competition policy, human capital and workforce development, energy production, and communications, information, and technology infrastructure, among others.
  • Area 3: Macro-Fiscal Policy
    Finally, a Working Group of the Commission will develop feasible proposals for tax policy reform with the aim of (i) enhancing the territory’s competitiveness and (ii) reducing tax distortions that may inhibit productivity growth in the private sector. This Group will work on evaluating the potential for a disciplined fiscal reform to enhance the territory’s competitiveness, given its inclusion in the US monetary union.

Conclusion
In sum, Puerto Rico has been under severe economic, fiscal, and financial stress during the past decade. Furthermore, the Fiscal Oversight Board has ordered Puerto Rico to put on the equivalent of an IMF policy straitjacket without providing access to the few benefits that usually accompany IMF conditionality programs. In our view, this policy posture simply does not make sense and implementing these policies will, in a perverse way, decrease Puerto Rico’s short and medium-term capacity to honor its obligations by intensifying an already prolonged economic contraction.

Second, to jumpstart economic growth in the short-term Congress needs to implement a comprehensive economic policy program, remove some of the disadvantages imposed on Puerto Rico under the current political arrangement, and eliminate some long-standing inequitable and discriminatory policies.
Third, in addition to initiatives at the Federal level, Puerto Rico needs to craft a long-term local economic development strategy. This strategy should consist of sectorial, horizontal and institutional policies to promote Puerto Rico’s capability to progressively move into higher value-added activities.

Thank you.

Center for a New Economy
Washington, DC
18 July 2017

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Comisión de Crecimiento para Puerto Rico de CNE: Apuntes para una Agenda

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