Puerto Rico’s publicly owned electric utility Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) released a draft of its 2019 integrated resource plan (IRP), which outlines the utility’s strategy continued post-Hurricane Maria recovery and future development over the next 20 years.
The plan sets up several methods to make the energy grid more robust after Hurricane Maria decimated the American commonwealth in September 2017. The hurricane resulted in the deaths of thousands and destroyed its electrical grid, leaving much of the island without power for months and many residents stranded in dire situations.
To increase the system's reliability, the IRP points to the use of microgrids, including eight “MiniGrids” or localized, self-sufficient zones that could produce necessary energy during and after major storms.
Authorities have also included several initiatives to make Puerto Rico rely more heavily on renewable energy sources. This is in line with a pledge Puerto Rico made in November 2018 to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. The plan calls for 2,220 megawatts (MW) of solar energy and 1,080 MW of battery storage, an astonishing amount considering the Sierra Club reports “the entire U.S. grid currently only includes 1031 MW of storage”, referencing Bloomberg NEF numbers.
The draft also includes phase outs for the use of coal and bunker oil, which the island currently imports at a high cost.
At the same time, provisions within the document seemed to put these renewable goals on the back burner or even act against them. The restoration efforts outlined in the IRP also includes three additional liquid natural gas import facilities, which clean energy advocates like the Sierra Club de Puerto Rico are fighting against.
Another point of contention is what the Sierra Club de Puerto Rico calls the IRP’s, “assumption that PREPA will be privatized.” For example, the energy plan mentions that the proposed microgrids “could be owned by the utility or private entities.”
Even before Hurricane Maria, PREPA was more than $9 billion in debt, which was consolidated as part of a deal in the spring of 2018—a move that Jose Carrion, chairman of the oversight board, said would "support the privatization and transformation of PREPA," according to Bloomberg.
While proponents see the move as a means to make the utility viable in the long term, the Sierra Club argues that PREPA “is the people of Puerto Rico’s greatest public resource.”
A finalized energy plan is expected to be released on February 12.