Energy Options for Puerto Rico

In a hearing last summer, legislators argued against the use of renewable energy in Puerto Rico.

“We’re hearing a lot about renewables, presumably wind and solar. Those are the most expensive ways of generating of electricity that we have available to us,” Tom McClintock of California said. “In a system that is impoverished and in desperate need of simple generation — particularly on an island favored by trade winds — why aren’t we pursuing much less expensive and much more reliable conventional electricity generation?”

Panelist Thomas Emmons of Pegasus Capital Advisors answered that “in Puerto Rico, solar power is cheaper than imported fossil fuels.” Puerto Rico has no fossil fuels available on the Island, and has to import natural gas and petroleum. In contrast, Puerto Rico has sufficient sun and wind to provide solar and wind power all year long.

Governor Rossello has pledged to make the Island 100% reliant on renewable energy by 2050. At present, there are many independent projects. For example, the Solar Foundation, the Municipality of San Juan, the Clinton Foundation, New Energy Puerto Rico, and others made a commitment at the recent Clinton Global Initiative to install solar power systems at the Plaza del Mercado de Río Piedras in San Juan. Walmart stores have been producing more than a third of their power with solar panels for some years. Resilient Power Puerto Rico is bringing solar power to community centers in the most vulnerable areas. So far, they have built solar microgrids in 11 municipalities.

PREPA

Meanwhile, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) continues to struggle. There is a plan to convert some power stations to natural gas. A court case is coming up next month which could put PREPA under receivership. Plans to privatize the utility are still underway.

Individuals and organizations are running out of patience in some cases, and turning to solar energy on their own. The government has traditionally discouraged the use of rooftop solar panels for fear of lowering their revenue from electricity. However, Hurricane Maria and the year of waiting for power after the disaster have changed the mindset about power generation.

Buying fuel for generators is expensive and residents are out of patience with unreliable power sources.

Another hearing

Raul Grijalva of Arizona is planning another Congressional hearing, to focus on climate change. Puerto Rico is expected to be included in the discussion.

Puerto Rico is still waiting on federal funds to rebuild the electric grid.

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