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Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority gearing up for natural gas conversion

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The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority said March 24 that it is gearing up to test generating units that have been converted to burn natural gas. Two 410-MW units will burn petroleum, natural gas or a combination of both fuels to generate electricity. The conversion of the units at PREPA's Costa Sur power plant is part of the utility’s effort to bring power costs down in the short run, the island utility said. Using more natural gas, rather than oil, to produce electricity also will pave the way to developing more renewable sources of energy, PREPA said.

While the cost of electricity generated by burning natural gas is about 6 cents per kilowatt-hour in Puerto Rico, the cost of electricity generated by burning oil on the island ranges from 17 to 28 cents/kWh, with some power plant units requiring expensive diesel fuel to operate, PREPA said.

The utility plans to increase its use of natural gas dramatically over the next two years. Today, PREPA generates 15% of its electricity using gas and gets 70% of its electricity from oil-fired units. By December 2013, the utility wants to reduce the amount of oil-generated power to 12% and anticipates using natural gas for 71% of its power portfolio. At the same time, PREPA plans to cut its coal-based power production to 7% and to bring new energy projects on line so 10% of its power will come from renewable sources.

Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño believes natural gas is the cheapest, quickest, and cleanest way to break Puerto Rico's dependency on oil, the utility said.

PREPA will carry out its plans to switch to natural gas by building a $450 million natural gas pipeline project called the Vía Verde. The 91-mile-long Via Verde (Green Way) pipeline will run underground from Puerto Rico’s only liquified natural gas terminal on the south coast to power plants in Arecibo and San Juan on the north coast. The pipeline will allow for the conversion of 1,500 megawatts of oil-fired power generation to natural gas, saving $1 billion in oil costs every year and cutting pollution emissions by 64%, the utility said. Via Verde is scheduled to go on line in 2012.

Meanwhile, Costa Sur power plant oil-fired units converted to natural gas are geared up for testing. "Work is being done to install 24 natural gas burners in Unit 5, and 16 in Unit 6," said PREPA Executive Director Miguel Cordero. "Shortly, they will be up for control validation and operational testing."

"Vía Verde is the safe and economical alternative that requires the lowest capital, operational costs, and shortest construction time," said Cordero. "It will help us to substantially reduce electricity costs in order to stimulate our economy, attract investments, create more jobs and protect the environment," he said. —JEANNINE ANDERSON


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