May 22, 2022

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Climate Law Blog »Blog Archive» Renewables are key to a fair energy future for Puerto Rico

By Ruth Santiago and Michael B. Gerrard*

This opinion piece was first published in The Hill. It is available here.

The Biden administration is facing an election that could advance two of its core goals: promoting environmental justice and combating climate change.

Puerto Rico’s already troubled energy system was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017 and a 6.4-magnitude earthquake in 2020. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has earmarked $ 9.6 billion for the work of the electrical system in Puerto Rico. FEMA must now decide whether to use this money to generate even more fossil fuels, which would worsen unhealthy levels of air pollution or instead dedicate the solar part to the roof, which would be healthier for residents, create more places. local work and make the power supply more resistant to disruption to the fragile power grid.

Puerto Rico’s electricity system is highly centralized and is based on 97% of fossil fuel generation. Fossil fuel plants emit multiple pollutants that negatively affect the health of nearby communities. The AES coal-fired power plant in Guayama and the Aguirre energy complex in Salinas, both in southeastern Puerto Rico, are two primary sources of air pollution and toxic emissions in the archipelago and disproportionately affect some of the poorest communities. . These two plants also extract large amounts of fresh water from the South Coast aquifer, the main water supply for thousands of people, and have contributed to the water shortage that has led to the rationing of the water. The Costa Sur and EcoElectrica plants in southwestern Puerto Rico burn imported “natural” methane gas and transmit energy over long distances through the vulnerable transmission and distribution system. The San Juan and Palo Seco power plants also negatively affect nearby communities with emissions from the combustion of crude oil and methane gas.

Much of the existing energy infrastructure is located in areas prone to flooding or at risk of rising sea levels, storm surges and tsunamis.

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) has submitted a plan to FEMA for the use of these funds that would perpetuate the use of fossil fuels. This is despite the fact that the 2018 Bipartisan Budgeting Act allows the use of funds for alternative technologies, such as on-site solar energy, as well as storage that keeps the lights on at night. Puerto Rico’s Public Energy Policy Act makes the facilitation of distributed energy resources, such as indoor solar energy and storage, a key part of Puerto Rico’s energy policy.

However, PREPA’s ten-year plan and its funding applications to FEMA require investing at least $ 853 million in two new natural gas power plants. This plan also allocates more than $ 8 billion for the work of the transmission system that would perpetuate the existing long-distance energy transmission, from south to north, as well as the environmental injustice already experienced by fence line communities located in near the highly polluting power plants of southern Puerto Rico. Reconstructing and tightening the existing transmission and distribution system to maintain dependence on fossil fuels and centralized generation would condemn these communities, made up of a majority of impoverished Afro-descendants, to continue to suffer disproportionate and adverse health effects caused by pollution of air, water and land.

The PREPA plan, currently being evaluated by FEMA, does not adequately consider solar and roof / in-situ storage alternatives that could have positive and lasting multiplier effects on environmental justice communities, the local economy, and environmental rates. occupation. In addition, solar and large-scale solar storage of the roof and terrain would not depend on the overhead cable system. The collapse of Hurricane Maria caused blackouts that were associated with hundreds of deaths because it closed. the life-saving medical equipment.

Puerto Rico is a very sunny place. Civil society groups, including community, environmental, labor, professional, and academic organizations, co-found and endorse the Queremos Sol or “We Want Sun” proposal, which promotes the transformation of PREPA to achieve large-scale implementation by the power of solar and in-situ / on-roof storage programs, energy efficiency, demand response, and energy literacy programs.

FEMA funds present a unique opportunity to transform the energy system. The allocation of federal funds for localized solar energy and storage through the public utility, which can develop a transparent procedure for large-scale deployment of solar energy and roof storage, has four objectives:

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