As the stalemate over a $14 billion dollar disaster relief bill drags on due to a disagreement over financial aid to Puerto Rico, the island “state-that’s-not-a-state” is taking matters into its own hands.
On March 25, Puerto Rico’s legislature approved a measure that will set a 100% renewable energy profile standard (RPS) to be implemented by 2050, joining the ranks of California, New Mexico, D.C. and Hawaii. Major players in the island’s environmental arena have hailed the move, as it includes extra funding and authority for the five-year-old Energy Bureau to enforce climate regulations imposed on corporations.
Even the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) has reportedly voiced its support, despite having “tussled with” with the Energy Bureau over its new Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) to revamp the island’s energy grid.
One of the biggest problems environmental groups have with the IRP is the portion on liquefied natural gas. Along with extensive solar panels and battery storage plans, PREPA proposes building three new terminals for importing LNG into Puerto Rico. According to Forbes, the methane leakage from burning LNG can be 87 times as potent as carbon emissions over a 20-year period — potentially causing irreversible damage before the target RPS is reached.
Representatives from solar industries and the clean energy sector have expressed concern about PREPA’s involvement in the movement to renewable energy, as their goal is to keep the island’s power (and profits) with the utility companies. Although expected to be more cost-efficient overall, the IRP made no mention of domestic solar panel installations, meaning self-sustaining home energy is still reserved for those wealthy enough to afford them; nor did it address how they plan to help vulnerable households in the meantime.
On a positive note, the plan will phase out coal and oil, lowering carbon emissions and moving the island forward in renewables. Activists hope it will be a catalyst for similar movements on the U.S. mainland, as well as other Caribbean islands, particularly because the new power grid will better prepare them for natural disasters.
The solar panels are expected to produce 2220MW (megawatts) of solar energy and backup power storage of 1080MW, making it the largest solar energy and battery project in the United States. The electricity that is currently distributed across Puerto Rico from a central location will now be generated by eight independent mini-grids. These, and smaller subsections of micro-grids, would be able to support individual communities or regions in the event of a massive power failure.
Hurricane Maria was a large-scale natural disaster that left many people without power for months. The overarching goal of this sustainable energy initiative is to not only improve the economy and positively impact the environment, but also give more security and stability to the citizens.