Puerto Rico Leaders Battle on Potential PREPA Privatization

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Puerto Rico's leaders are at odds over a potential privatization of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.

On March 20 Puerto Rico's Senate passed a series of bills for reforming the commonwealth's electrical system. Senate President Eduardo Bhatia led the advocacy for the bills.

Both Bhatia and Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro García Padilla are members of the Popular Democratic Party.

The majority of the party's senators voted with Bhatia for the bills, even though García Padilla opposed them. All but one Senate member of the primary opposition party, New Progressive Party, voted against the bills. Independence Party Senator María de Lourdes Santiago voted against them.

One of the bills opened the path for a possible quick privatization of the provision of electricity on the island. This is one of the key things García Padilla opposes about the bills, the governor's chief of staff, Ingrid Vila Biaggi, told The Bond Buyer.

"The authority needs a deep reform of its governance, in its mission and in the way it operates," she said. "The transformation of our electric power infrastructure cannot become an attack on the authority; much less on its employees.

"I invite the Senate president to keep working shoulder-to-shoulder with the governor, the authority and the House to transform the public utility from within," Vila Biaggi said.

"We agree that the authority must change," said PREPA executive director Juan Alicea Flores on March 20. Alicea Flores said his focus was on lowering the price of electricity for Puerto Rico residents.

If Bhatia's bills were brought to a vote in the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, they would not gain a majority of votes, said the source close to the governor.

PREPA has $8.8 billion in debt outstanding. It is rated Ba2 by Moody's Investors Service, BB-plus by Fitch Ratings, and BBB by Standard & Poor's.

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Puerto Rico