Environment

Puerto Rico wants to switch to 100 percent renewable energy

An ambitious clean energy bill was already passed by the Puerto Rican Senate.

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As Puerto Rico rebuilds from Hurricane Maria, an ambitious clean energy bill was passed by the Senate (it still must be voted on by the House) that will shift the island to 100 percent renewable energy.

The proposed legislation calls for ending coal power generation by 2028 and requires all oil-fired power plants to convert to dual-fuel capacity within five years. The territory currently provides 62 percent of its electricity by burning coal and oil according to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), and only four percent is from renewables.

The new bill also supports people who can install their own solar panels and sell excess power to the grid. Puerto Rico hopes that some disaster funding may help homeowners buy solar panels. A request to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development for $100 million to go to solar power is still pending.

Even before the storm, there were clear arguments for renewables. The state-owned electrical grid was unreliable and prone to power failures, and PREPA declared bankruptcy in 2017 even before Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the island. Importing fuel to Puerto Rico is expensive, and the cost of electricity is twice as much as on the mainland. The island has abundant sunshine and wind, so the shift to these renewables is very compelling.

“It changed everything,” Javier Rua-Jovet told FastCompany. Rua-Jovet lives in San Juan and now works as director of public policy in Puerto Rico for SunRun, a solar power company that entered the market there this year because of the demand for solar power and battery storage systems. “People were hurled back from the first world to the third world in terms of energy,” he said.

After the hurricane, solar companies like SunRun, Sonnen, and Tesla installed small microgrids (solar panels and batteries) at hospitals and fire stations where electrical power was essential. The system worked, and this helped boost the support for microgrids and renewable energy.

The storm “created broad consensus across the political spectrum,” Rua-Jovet told FastCompany. “We have a pro-renewables governor. We have a pro-renewables Senate.”

Puerto Rico's governor, Ricardo Rosselló, has expressed his support of the proposal. He and Elon musk connected on Twitter directly about rebuilding the electrical grid with independent solar and battery systems.

Even if the legislation does not pass, PREPA is working on its own plan that has a greater emphasis on renewables. According to Inside Climate News, a draft of the integrated resource plan should be released by the end of the month.

The electric grid in Puerto Rico was unreliable before the hurricane. Now they have a chance to rebuild it to something better and greener.

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