House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl Grijalva and more than three dozen other Members of Congress are asking Congress to provide $5 billion for solar power installations in Puerto Rico.In a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa De Lauro, Grijalva and the other Members wrote, “We write you to ask that Congress provide the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) $5 billion for rooftop solar and storage solutions for low-income households and households with people with disabilities in Puerto Rico in an emergency supplemental appropriations bill.”
The letter went on to review the problems faced by Puerto Rico’s electric grid in the five years since Hurricane Maria, detailing the frequent blackouts and spiraling costs, as well as the failure to repair or harden the power grid.
“For these reasons and more, the market for rooftop solar and batteries is among the most active in the country,” Grijalva’s letter pointed out. “But a new residential solar panel and battery system costs about $25,000, while the median household income Puerto Rico is just over $21,000.4 Those without the means to buy or finance them are getting left behind. For many people in Puerto Rico, energy independence is a survival strategy, and it’s out of reach for those that need it most.”
Following Hurricane Fiona during the 2022 hurricane season, solar power stations were found to be resilient and to keep power on. “A preliminary study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) PR100 program suggests that Puerto Rico’s high exposure to sunlight could potentially provide energy well in excess of current needs from rooftop solar power,” the letter continued. “The record of reliability of solar power in Puerto Rico, especially during a crisis is excellent and growing. Amidst the island-wide blackout caused by Hurricane Fiona, households and businesses equipped for solar-powered generation and storage fared much better than those who were reliant on the centralized grid. For example, Sunnova Energy, a residential solar installation company, reported that 97% of its customers had access to electricity after the storm.”
With more than 200 hours of sunlight in an average month, Puerto Rico is well placed to use solar energy. Reliance on fossil fuels keeps energy prices high in spite of unreliable service.
Signers of the letter include Reps. Nydia Velazquez, Darren Soto, Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ritchie Torres, and dozens more.
The Congressional reps have support from consumer advocacy groups, businesses, and churches, including Power4PR, Alianza for Progress, EarthJustice, Oxfam and the Environmental Defense Fund. Nonprofit groups have been in the forefront of efforts to get solar power into the homes of residents of Puerto Rico.
In a letter to Senate leaders, the endorsing organizations wrote, “We write to support current legislative efforts to include $5 billion in federal funding in the emergency supplemental appropriations bill for rooftop solar and storage in Puerto Rico to help low income and vulnerable households on the island. In the face of increasingly severe storms and a significantly challenged centralized grid, Puerto Rico continues to experience island-wide blackouts and frequent long- term outages.”
“Five years after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico’s electrical grid continues to have regular setbacks that impact those who lack resources the most,” they continued. “The Puerto Rican government’s privatization initiative, which led to a contract with LUMA Energy, resulted in significant service issues and poor service restoration after Hurricane Fiona. As religious organizations that provide places to worship, meeting place and community offerings to our congregations, non-profits that operate every day to make the lives of Puerto Ricans better, and businesses that offer goods and services to the affected households, we have seen firsthand the struggle that hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans go through whenever there is an extreme weather event or the grid has issues, which unfortunately is a regular occurrence on the island.”
Is solar power realistic for Puerto Rico?
Solar power is absolutely realistic for Puerto Rico. The experience of Hurricane Fiona, as well as the high number of hours of average sunlight, makes it clear that this is a good choice for the Island.
Solar power will also reduce dangerous emissions and perhaps help limit climate change which threatens the Island.
Puerto Rico made a commitment to shift to renewable energy sources, such as solar energy, but 2050, but currently only about 3% of the energy needs of the Island are being met by renewable sources. The proposal from Grijalva and the other Members of Congress is a step in the right direction.