The public debate over “energy reform” in Puerto Rico has centered on the high cost of electricity as well as the bankruptcy of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA). It is a priority for the Puerto Rican working class to understand how these colonial maneuvers obey economic forces directly related to the US economy and, at the same time, the international one. The main forces that are driving the current energy reform have roots in the conflicts between the great energy monopolies at the international level.
Within the international context the US now finds itself as an energy exporter. Technological advances in the energy industry have made the production and export of liquefied natural gas economically viable. At the same time the US domestic market for oil and gas has become saturated prompting an expansion to other key sectors of the market, which include Europe and the Caribbean. The surge in US natural gas exports has taken place with a high degree of financial speculation on Wall Street, which has driven both the construction of necessary infrastructure and new legislation. This explains the infrastructure construction that has taken place along the Gulf Coast for liquefying and exporting natural gas.
The relationship between the energy situation in the territory and the conflicts between energy monopolies on the international level is invariably profound and inseparable. In this sense, the promise of cheap and clean energy from natural gas is a lie told by the territorial administrators. The current excess of supply that explains the low cost of natural gas will disappear with the opening of new markets in Europe and Asia. The logic of the market will lead to an increase in rates that obviously will be transmitted to the final consumers.
The environmental cost for the US, by positioning itself as potentially a major exporter of natural gas, is very high. Hydraulic fracturing is a highly polluting technique that has been related to grave damage to the environment and communities both in the US and in other parts of the world. Methane escapes provoked both by drilling and the distribution process of natural gas have a greater effect on global warming than carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. As we can see, liquefied gas does not represent a clean energy alternative nor does it break with the dependence on monopolized energy markets. It only represents the strategy of US capital to position itself effectively within international markets as an energy supplier and displace its rivals.
PREPA is an example of how the territorial economy has functioned to absorb some of the excess capacity of capital at monopoly prices. The majority of the electric energy produced in Puerto Rico is base don antiquated technology and the dirtiest and most expensive fossil fuels on the market. Currently, electricity production can be divided as follows: 51% petroleum, 31% natural gas, 16% coal, and only 2% renewable energy. This absurd reality is the history of colonialism in Puerto Rico where territorial administrators have enriched themselves for decades. At the same time, this reality shows us that the exploitation of labor takes diverse forms that include the participation of the State, by means of so-called public corporations, as just another exploiter.
The workers in Puerto Rico are conscious of the need to transform energy production. However, if capitalist relations based on the profit motive are maintained we will continue supporting the irrational and increasingly destructive decisions with respect to natural resources that we live with today. The true path is by means of the revolutionary transformation of society. This is the path in which the satisfaction of rational human needs and the realization of human potential constitute the objectives of productive activity. These objectives are inconceivable without the conscious preservation of the environment.