- More than three dozen Democrats in the U.S. House, with the support of consumer advocates and local businesses and churches, are calling for Congress to allocate $5 billion to help struggling Puerto Ricans install solar energy and battery systems at their homes.
- The funding could be allocated through an emergency supplemental appropriations bill, according to House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., and would help low-income households and households with people with disabilities install clean energy systems.
- Puerto Rico’s market for rooftop solar and battery systems is “among the most active in the country,” Grijalva and 37 other lawmakers noted in their October letter to House leadership. However, a residential solar panel and battery system costs about $25,000, lawmakers noted, while the median household income in Puerto Rico is around $21,000.
Dozens of consumer advocacy groups, businesses and churches on Monday called on the Senate to take up Grijalva’s $5 billion proposal.
The funding would help ensure vulnerable populations “can remain in their homes and everyday lives in Puerto Rico can continue because people can rely on their power source no matter whether the island is dealing with an extreme weather event or another issue impacting the grid’s performance,” the groups said in a letter to Senate leadership.
Groups signing the letter include: Power4PR, Alianza for Progress, EarthJustice, Oxfam and the Environmental Defense Fund, along with local businesses and churches.
Puerto Rico’s power system has been devastated by natural disasters in recent years, including Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, multiple earthquakes in 2020, and Hurricane Fiona in September.
“Efforts to modernize the power grid have seen limited success, impeded for years by recurring delays in project submissions and approvals, technological failures, the persistence of the electric generation authority’s multi-billion-dollar debt, and a general lack of coordination,” according to Grijalva’s letter.
LUMA Energy began operating Puerto Rico’s electric grid last year, managing the system through a public-private partnership while the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority continues to own the island’s grid assets.
On Tuesday, LUMA announced the launch of Puerto Rico’s federally-funded Substation Modernization Initiative, beginning with the reconstruction of a substation in the municipality of Manatí. It is the first major work on the substation in two decades and the Manatí project will ultimately represent more than $55 million in funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the utility said.
“This is just the first of many FEMA-funded projects to come that will not only modernize and reconstruct every substation in Puerto Rico, it will help improve reliability and resiliency across the electric system for our 1.5 million
customers,” LUMA Engineer Daniel Hernández said in a statement.
President Joe Biden visited Puerto Rico in October to survey storm restoration efforts following Hurricane Fiona. He pledged more than $60 million to help coastal areas and noted nearly $700 million in infrastructure investments in Puerto Rico announced since the signing of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law last year.
“We’re particularly focused on the power grid,” Biden said. “I’m ready to deploy and expedite more resources from the Department of Energy and other federal agencies ... to help transform the entire system.”
Puerto Rican advocates in their Monday letter to the Senate said a $5 billion investment in residential solar and storage would “create a distributed climate-resilient power system that saves lives that are needlessly lost with each serious weather event.”