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Puerto Rico   Puerto Rico Profile

Territory Profile and Energy Estimates

Profile AnalysisPrint Territory Energy Profile
(overview, data, & analysis)



Last Updated: September 21, 2017

Overview

Energy use per capita is one-third as much in Puerto Rico as it is in the 50 states.

The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico consists of the easternmost islands of the Greater Antilles in the Caribbean Sea, southeast of Florida. Puerto Rico has no proved reserves or production of conventional fossil fuels. The commonwealth has some renewable solar, wind, hydropower, and biomass resources but relies primarily on imported fossil fuels to meet its energy needs.1,2

The commonwealth's main island, Puerto Rico, has coastal plains, sandy beaches, and a forested and mountainous interior, with the highest peak exceeding 4,000 feet. Rivers flowing down the mountains offer hydropower potential.3 The tropical marine climate has little seasonal variation, and rain occurs year round. The Caribbean hurricane season, from June to November, sometimes brings destructive storms.4 The population is concentrated on the main island of Puerto Rico, with smaller populations on the islands of Vieques and Culebra. There are also small, uninhabited islands scattered around the main island.5 The commonwealth's population has been close to 4 million, but it is decreasing.6 Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, and some have chosen to move to the U.S. mainland since an ongoing recession began in 2006.7,8,9

Agriculture, mainly sugar cane, dominated Puerto Rico's economy until the middle of the 20th century.10 Although rum is still produced, sugar cane production had ceased in Puerto Rico until a recent government program reintroduced it,11,12,13 and agriculture has become a relatively small part of the economy.14 Manufacturing has led the private sector,15 with industries that include pharmaceuticals and medical devices, electronics, aviation, and renewable energy, but manufacturing has been contracting16 as some special federal and commonwealth tax benefits have been phased out.17,18 Tourism is a growing sector of the economy. Employment in the commonwealth government has fallen, but the government still employs one in four workers.19

On average, the islands' residents use much less energy than is used by consumers in the 50 U.S. states. Puerto Rico's energy intensity—the energy expended per dollar of gross domestic product—is less than two-thirds of the states' energy intensity,20,21 and the commonwealth's energy consumption per capita is about one-third of the states' figure.22

Petroleum

A recent U.S. Geological Survey assessment identified the potential for undiscovered crude oil resources in a subsea formation south of the islands,23 but Puerto Rico has no proved petroleum reserves, and the islands neither produce nor refine crude oil. About three-fourths of the energy used in Puerto Rico comes from petroleum products,24,25 which are all imported, principally through the ports of San Juan, Guayanilla, and Ponce.26,27 The last of Puerto Rico's five petroleum refineries, located at Yabucoa, was shut down in 2009,28 joining four other island refineries that were closed between 1992 and 2005.29 Storage and shipping facilities on the Yabucoa site continue to be used as a refined products terminal.30

More than nine-tenths of Puerto Rico's petroleum imports are residual fuel, motor gasoline, and distillate fuel that serve the commonwealth's electric power and transportation sectors.31 Puerto Rico allows use of conventional motor gasoline,32,33 which makes up more than one-third of annual petroleum product imports. About 40% of Puerto Rico's electricity generating capacity is fired with No. 6 residual fuel oil and 31% with No. 2 diesel fuel.34 To reduce both costs of and emissions from petroleum fuels, the commonwealth's electric utility is considering substituting propane or natural gas at several generating plants.35 Other petroleum products imported include jet fuel and small amounts of liquefied petroleum fuels and kerosene.36 Despite the commonwealth's low per capita total energy consumption, Puerto Rico's per capita petroleum consumption is about three-fourths of the average for the 50 states,37,38 primarily because of the commonwealth's dependence on residual fuel oil and diesel fuel for nearly half of the islands' electricity.39

Natural gas

Puerto Rico has increased LNG imports to replace petroleum in electricity generation.

The U.S. Geological Survey assessment also identified the potential for undiscovered natural gas resources in a subsea formation south of Puerto Rico, but the commonwealth has no proved natural gas reserves and does not produce natural gas.40 Nearly all natural gas is imported as liquefied natural gas (LNG) through the Peñuelas terminal and regasification facility at Guayanilla Bay on the southwestern coast.41,42,43 The facility was built to supply the adjacent 507-megawatt EcoEléctrica generating plant.44 LNG is imported mainly from Trinidad and Tobago.45,46 Small amounts of LNG from the U.S. mainland have also begun entering Puerto Rico in standardized cryogenic containers to supply fuel to a few industrial customers,47,48,49 but otherwise natural gas is consumed only in electricity production. Puerto Rico's per capita natural gas consumption is about one-fifth of the average in the 50 states.50,51,52 Beginning in 2012, LNG imports through Peñuelas increased to support the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority's (PREPA) conversion of the nearby oil-fired Costa Sur (South Coast) generating station to dual-fuel capability with natural gas.53,54 The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has approved a truck-loading facility at the terminal so that LNG can also be used in transportation.55

PREPA is planning to add more natural gas-fired generating capability.56,57 PREPA plans originally called for a pipeline to take natural gas from the Peñuelas terminal to the north coast, where three PREPA oil-fired generating stations are located.58 But public opposition arose to routing the pipeline through Puerto Rico's rugged central mountains,59,60 and the plan was dropped after officials found the terminal could not handle all of PREPA's expected natural gas needs.61 PREPA subsequently contracted for installation of a floating terminal with regasification capability four miles offshore from the Aguirre generating station on the southern coast.62 FERC approved the facility in 2015,63 and PREPA has been pursuing permits and negotiating financial arrangements to enable Aguirre construction to proceed.64,65,66,67,68 PREPA is also considering the feasibility of transporting natural gas by pipeline from the Aguirre terminal to its north coast generating plants, building a second LNG regasification and storage terminal on the north coast, or fueling some smaller peaking generators with LNG imported in cryogenic containers.69

Coal

Puerto Rico has no coal resources and produces no coal.70 The commonwealth has one coal-fired electricity generating plant, at Guayama.71 The plant uses circulating fluidized-bed combustion and began operation in 2002. Typically, about 1.6 million short tons of coal are imported annually from Colombia to supply the 454-megawatt plant.72,73 Ash from coal combustion is recycled on site into a partially solidified aggregate that is used in asphalt and concrete for road construction and other applications.74,75 The commonwealth's per capita coal consumption is about one-fifth of per capita coal consumption in the 50 states.76,77,78

Electricity

Imported petroleum costs keep Puerto Rican power prices higher than those of any state except Hawaii.

Puerto Rico's electricity is supplied by PREPA, a government agency that owns the electricity distribution system for the main island, Vieques, and Culebra, as well as most generating stations.79,80 PREPA (in Spanish, Autoridad de Energía Eléctrica, or AEE) was founded in the 1920s as a government irrigation system, but its responsibilities grew over the years to encompass island electrification.81 It serves more customers than any other public electric utility in the United States.82 Until recently, Puerto Rico obtained two-thirds of its electricity from petroleum, generated mainly at six PREPA stations with steam turbines, combustion turbines, combined cycle technology, or some combination of the three. The other one-third of PREPA's power supply was almost evenly divided between natural gas and coal generation, provided by two independent power producers, plus a small fraction from hydroelectric generators.83,84 In 2012, natural gas firing capability was added to PREPA's Costa Sur generating station in Guayanilla. As a result, for the fiscal year ending in June 2017, petroleum supplied just under half of the island's electricity, and natural gas supplied nearly one-third. Coal continued to supply about one-sixth of electricity, while renewables supplied about 2.4%.85,86

The commercial sector consumes nearly half of PREPA's retail electricity, and the residential sector consumes more than one-third. The industrial sector, including agriculture, accounts for one-eighth of consumption, with the balance consumed for public uses like street lighting.87 Per capita, Puerto Rico's electricity consumption is a little more than two-fifths of the average in the 50 states.88,89 In recent years, high world petroleum prices have driven typical Puerto Rican power prices as high as three times the U.S. states' average retail price.90 In 2015 and 2016, PREPA electricity rates declined along with international petroleum prices, but, in 2016, PREPA rates were still higher than rates in 49 of the 50 states.91 Only Hawaii's rates were higher.92 To reduce fuel costs, PREPA has planned to add natural gas capability at its largest generating stations,93 but conversions beyond Costa Sur depend on construction of LNG import terminals and natural gas distribution infrastructure.94 Plans are under way for conversion of PREPA's largest generating station, Aguirre, to use LNG supplied from a floating off-shore terminal.95,96 PREPA is considering a variety of alternative fuel and supply options to reduce costs and emissions at its two large San Juan-area plants, San Juan and Palo Seco, as well as options for its diesel-fueled turbines at Cambalache and Mayagüez.97,98 Decisions on PREPA's future directions are awaiting PREPA's bankruptcy reorganization in the face of the ongoing recession and completion of an Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) with the Puerto Rico Energy Commission (PREC).99,100,101,102,103

In 2014, Puerto Rico's legislature passed Law 57, reforming the commonwealth's electricity sector and creating the PREC. The commission is the first commonwealth body to regulate PREPA. The commission approves wholesale and retail rates, sets efficiency and interconnection standards, and oversees PREPA'S compliance with Puerto Rico's 2010 renewable portfolio standard (RPS). The law also required PREPA to expedite connections for distributed (customer-sited, small-scale) generation, improve the efficiency of fossil generation by 60% within three years, and initiate integrated resource planning with full public input.104,105

Puerto Rico, the nearby U.S. Virgin Islands, and U.S. federal agencies have explored the potential for connecting the isolated island grids with each other and with other Caribbean islands, with an eye toward a possible Caribbean-wide grid.106,107 A larger grid could lower costs and enable the integration of more renewable energy,108 but laying cables across deep ocean trenches would be costly, and the option was not included in PREPA's IRP.109

Renewable energy

Puerto Rico is home to the largest wind farm and the largest solar farm in the Caribbean.

Puerto Rico has renewable resources from its wind, rivers, and the sun and is home to both the largest solar photovoltaic (PV) facility and the largest wind farm in the Caribbean.110,111 In fiscal year 2016-17, ending June 30, 2017, about 2.4% of PREPA's electricity came from renewable energy sources, with two-fifths of that from wind and nearly as much from solar. The rest came from hydroelectric and landfill gas facilities. In the first six months of 2017, solar generation exceeded wind generation as new solar facilities came online and regional weather produced less wind.112,113

Puerto Rico has two utility-scale wind farms. The 26-megawatt facility at Naguabo went online in 2009, and the 95-megawatt facility at Santa Isabel began service in 2010.114 Other wind projects have been proposed, but Puerto Rico's onshore wind resource is limited, and proposed sites have faced local opposition.115,116,117,118

Solar power is Puerto Rico's fastest growing renewable resource. In June 2017, three-fourths of Puerto Rico's solar generation came from utility-scale facilities and one-fourth from distributed solar panels on the islands' homes and businesses.119 The largest solar farm, at Isabela, has 45 megawatts of capacity and came into service between September 2016 and May 2017, doubling PREPA's solar generation over that period.120,121 As of June 2017, Puerto Rico had five utility-scale solar farms in full operation and two in preoperational testing, plus 14 more solar projects in negotiations with PREPA.122 In addition, there were more than 8,500 customers with nearly 88 megawatts of distributed capacity connected with net metering. From June 2016 to June 2017, net generation from distributed facilities rose by nearly three-fifths.123 There is no legal limit on the total capacity of net-metered facilities that may be connected to PREPA's transmission system, and continued growth of distributed generation is expected.124 Puerto Rico also requires solar hot water heaters in all new single-family housing units.125 The commonwealth used funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for a weatherization assistance program that installed more than 11,000 solar hot water heaters in existing homes.126

Puerto Rico's 21 hydroelectric generating units, which were built beginning in 1915, are sited on reservoirs that often supply drinking and irrigation water as well as electricity.127,128,129,130 Their output varies significantly with rainfall and competing water uses. In recent years, they have supplied nearly one-fifth of Puerto Rico's renewable electricity.131 Two generators using landfill gas, located at Fajardo and Toa Baja, began generating electricity in late 2015. Biomass generation now contributes more than 2% of Puerto Rico's renewable electricity.132,133 PREPA encouraged development of municipal solid waste, landfill gas, and other waste-to-energy facilities, but proposed facilities faced local opposition,134,135,136,137 and only one proposal is still active with PREPA.138 Moreover, many of the island's landfills violate federal standards and may be shut down.139,140 For the longer term, Puerto Rico has explored the use of biofuels, primarily those derived from agricultural wastes, and technologies that could harvest energy from the waves, currents, and ocean depths surrounding the islands. 141,142

In 2010, Puerto Rico's legislature enacted an RPS that required PREPA to get 12% of its electricity from renewable sources starting in 2015, scaling up to 15% by 2020 and 20% by 2035.143 The 2015 goal was not met. From 2008 to 2012, PREPA signed 68 long-term power purchase agreements with solar, wind, and biomass energy developers for about 1,600 megawatts of renewable capacity. Of those, 11 contracted projects have been built, 10 were canceled, and 47 contracts are inactive or in renegotiation.144 In 2014, PREPA renegotiated some contracts to require energy storage equal to 30% of project capacity to increase grid stability.145,146 A 16-megawatt solar farm at Salinas, which came on line in 2016, incorporates 4.5 megawatts of batteries that are charged during daylight hours and supply the grid overnight, and batteries are being added at another solar facility.147,148,149 As part of the IRP process, PREPA and the PREC are discussing future RPS goals and how they can be met.150,151

Endnotes

1 U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), Puerto Rico Territory Energy Profile, Data, Reserves & Supply, and Imports & Exports, accessed August 9, 2017.
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3 U.S. Geological Survey, Caribbean Water Science Center: Puerto Rico Hydroelectric-Power Water Use, updated December 12, 2012.
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6 U.S. Census Bureau, State Population Totals Tables: 2010-2016, Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for the United States, Regions, States, and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2016 (NST-EST2016-01), 2016 Population Estimates.
7 Berridge, Scott, "Puerto Rico: A Study of Population Loss Amid Economic Decline," Monthly Labor Review, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (September 2015).
8 Levin, Jonathan, and Rebecca Spalding, "Puerto Rico's Exodus Is Speeding the Island's Economic Collapse," Bloomberg (June 2, 2107).
9 Autoridad de Energía Eléctrica, Other Information Required in the Regulation on Integrated Resource Planning for the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (2015), p. 15.
10 Bram, Jason, et al., Trends and Developments in the Economy of Puerto Rico, Federal Reserve Bank of New York (March 2008), p. 2-3.
11 Bridgman, Benjamin, et al., What Ever Happened to the Puerto Rican Sugar Manufacturing Industry? Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis (December 2012), p. 1.
12 Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Department of Labor and Human Resources, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Puerto Rico Economic Analysis Report 2013-14, p. 6-12.
13 Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Department of Labor and Human Resources, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Puerto Rico Economic Analysis Report 2015-16, p. 19.
14 Setrini, Gustavo, Cultivating New Development Paths: Agricultural Entrepreneurship in Puerto Rico (September 4, 2012), p. 6-8.
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23 Schenk, Christopher J., et al., "Assessment of Undiscovered Technically Recoverable Oil and Gas Resources of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rico-U.S. Virgin Islands Exclusive Economic Zone," U.S. Geological Survey, Fact Sheet 2013-3101 (November 2013).
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36 U.S. EIA, Puerto Rico Territory Energy Profile, Data, Imports & Exports, accessed August 10, 2017.
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40 Schenk, Christopher J., et al., "Assessment of Undiscovered Technically Recoverable Oil and Gas Resources of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rico-U.S. Virgin Islands Exclusive Economic Zone," U.S. Geological Survey, Fact Sheet 2013-3101 (November 2013).
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72 U.S. EIA, International Energy Statistics, Coal Recoverable Reserves 2014, Puerto Rico and United States, Coal Reserves, Coal Production, and Coal Consumption, 2011-14.
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