Updated on 4/16/19: Gov. Ricardo Rosselló signed the Puerto Rico Energy Public Policy Act into law on April 18, 2019.
While the mainland United States debates the Green New Deal, Puerto Rico last month committed to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. The Puerto Rico Energy Public Policy Act, approved 21 to 4 by Puerto Rico’s Senate, also includes a ban on coal power after 2028. The bill now heads to Gov. Ricardo Rossello for his signature.
After Hurricane Maria destroyed the island's aging electric grid in 2017 and left thousands of U.S. citizens without power for nearly a year, there was talk of turning the grid green. Now, those rumors might become reality.
Federal officials spent over $3 billion to repower the island using the outdated grid, according to an article in USA Today. However, residents and lawmakers want to revitalize a green grid that will be more resilient to storms and other increasing climate change effects.
Renewable energy can bring affordable electricity to Puerto Rico, a region that experiences some of the highest electricity costs in the country. Imported petroleum keeps Puerto Rican power prices higher than every state except Alaska and Hawaii, according to the Energy Information Association (EIA).
This commitment will require an exponential increase in renewable investment, because in 2017 only 2 percent of the island’s energy came from renewable sources.
The law would speed up permitting and renewable portfolio standards (RPS) for solar and energy storage companies, provide automatic interconnection to the grid for customer solar power systems below 25 kilowatts and encourage distributed microgrids to avoid lengthy power outages, according to an article in Forbes. It will also improve net metering and solar, storage and microgrid policies, reduce utility approval time to 90 days for commercial and industrial solar projects and exempt solar electric storage equipment from sales taxes.
The Environmental Defense Fund also has a role in the legislation: its new initiative will provide a three-year collaborative program to help communities install low-carbon microgrids that will provide reliable, affordable energy to remote locations. This program plans to combine community, financial and regulatory stakeholders to simplify the process.
Last month, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), the embattled and deeply indebted electric provider for the island nation, saw its plan to implement renewable energy rejected by the island’s energy commission because it lacked details for its proposed mini-grid structure and failed to include Puerto Rico’s current 20 percent by 2030 RPS. The plan proposed breaking the island’s grid into eight mini-grids, according to Forbes. PREPA has been asked to update and resubmit its draft proposal within 30 days.
Currently, there are many community initiatives working to bring solar energy and microgrid technology to cities and rural areas. Casa Pueblo, a nonprofit in the small municipality of Adjuntas, provides sustainable education, a cultural center and a solar-powered movie theater and radio station. When most of the island went dark after Hurricane Maria, the center’s lights remained on and served as a space for residents to recharge phones, power dialysis machines and stay updated with news.
Casa Pueblo recently partnered with Google’s Project Sunroof, surveying 44,000 houses to find which were viable for solar; 90 percent of the surveyed rooftops can have solar panels installed. The goal is to power the island’s electric grid with 50 percent solar energy by 2027 (which will be the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria). Casa Pueblo also worked with Empowered by Light, a San Francisco nonprofit, to provide a solar-plus-energy-storage system to a home for the low-income elderly.
If the Puerto Rico Energy Public Policy Act passes, Puerto Rico would join similar state-level 100-percent renewable energy commitments from California, Hawaii, New Mexico and Washington, D.C.