When someone hears the words ‘Puerto Rico,’ they tend to picture a beautiful, picturesque island in the Caribbean Sea.
And to be completely honest, this is not at all an untrue assessment!
Though the island has garnered a lot of attention for the damage it sustained during Hurricane Maria… a tragedy that it is still reeling from… it remains nothing short of a Caribbean paradise.
But unfortunately for its people, the island’s history with energy has not always been so ‘fantastic.’ And this was highlighted during the storms that ravaged its way of life (and electrical grid) back in 2017.
But this is also not the island’s legacy.
Puerto Rico may be disadvantaged in some ways by being classified as a ‘territory’ of the United States instead of a full-fledged state, but their stance on renewable energy has seen a mighty surge of confidence in recent months.
In fact, Puerto Rico has started making new headlines on April 12th, 2019… as the island that is taking one of the most aggressive turns toward clean energy that the US has ever seen!
What Is Really the Goal of Puerto Rico Plans to Switch 100% to Renewable Energy?
Puerto Rico’s Governor, Ricardo Rossello, has officially hedged a confident bet on the future of the island and its association with water, wind, and solar energy.
His signing of Puerto Rico’s ‘aggressive’ renewable energy bill marks an optimistic future for the island… and a challenge to not only Puerto Rico’s commitment to renewable energy, but also to the rest of the United States as well.
The bill, called the ‘Puerto Rico Energy Public Policy Act,’ pledges to power the island solely on renewable energy by the year 2050!
There are also other notable milestones contained within the bill. For example, by 2025, the island must be drawing 40% of its electricity from renewables. And by 2028, the island must have completely given up the use of coal.
Puerto Rico is not the only US territory to set such milestones. Hawaii, New Mexico, and some United States cities also have 100% clean energy targets. But some are calling this ‘the quickest’ planned wide-scale transition to renewable energy that has ever taken place on our planet.
But what exactly is the plan? How does Puerto Rico plan to do it?
Here’s what you need to know.
Puerto Rico – Moving Into the Future
Puerto Rico is an interesting experiment in renewable energy transition… especially when you take into account the state of their current infrastructure.
The island is plagued by a power grid that has been racked by time, neglect, and poor maintenance. And this was compounded by damage done during Hurricane Maria… some of which, to this day, remains a problem.
Note: Hurricane Maria left the largest blackout in United States history in its wake in Puerto Rico! If anyone knows what it is like to have the advantages of a modern power grid ripped from their grasp… it is the citizens of modern-day Puerto Rico!
As an island, it is also isolated from the larger power grid of the US. It has fewer backup options than the US, and has largely been dependent on fossil fuels to produce the majority of its electricity.
But then again, it is not so surprising that Puerto Rico has chosen clean energy for its future. With its current energy infrastructure in ruins, it has an important choice to make.
They can either rebuild and continue to power the island with coal and diesel, or they can invest in a new, more stable, more resilient renewable energy platform.
They chose the latter with this new bill, which actually makes a lot of sense for some of the future challenges they are facing.
It also goes to show that they are not afraid to make such aggressive changes, even in the face of the difficult economic state the island currently finds itself in.
Here are the main ‘events’ of the bill that onlookers should pay attention to. The bill would…
- Increase the island’s renewable energy portfolio to 100% by 2050
- Ban coal power after 2028
- Call for meeting 40% of all electricity needs with wind and solar by 2023
- Break up the electric grid into a quilt of mini and micro grids, making the island more resilient to future storms and better able to facilitate solar-power development
- Make it possible to turn families from energy consumers into energy ‘prosumers,’ who both produce and consume energy
This last note is perhaps one of the most interesting ideas brought about by the bill.
One potential idea is for about 1 million homes (at least, one million at first) to be equipped with rooftop solar panels and batteries. These could be easily dissembled and stored before a storm, and re-assembled after it has passed.
This would help to keep these families from being so dependent upon the power grid. But it would also open up the possibility for these homeowners to sell the electricity they don’t use back to the power grid… which is a very interesting idea.
One of the main ideas behind the new energy bill is to target the poorest and hardest-to-reach families in Puerto Rico… bringing about justice for those who are the most vulnerable to losing power. This would be accomplished by creating an energy-security policy that would bring the poorest families on the island a greater level of energy security.
There has been a push by PREPA to use natural gas as a short-term bridge to help the island during its transition away from coal… but this also poses a few potential problems.
There isn’t really a scenario where natural gas could help to bring more immediate security to the island’s poorest and most vulnerable inhabitants. Solar power, on the other hand, could absolutely offer this kind of ‘immediate’ security, and at a more affordable price.
One interesting factor to keep in mind is that, contrary to what mainstream media often wants us to believe, the Puerto Rican people have not just been ‘sitting idly by’ waiting for the government to save them.
Many communities have already been hard at work building their own renewable energy systems in the interim.
And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the new law is based on this exact kind of ‘spirit’ that has already been taken up by those who have used their own resources to help erect renewable energy alternatives for their own communities within Puerto Rico, in the face of the tremendous damage to the power grid perpetrated by Hurricane Maria.
There are several examples of this.
An architect named Jonathan Marvel helped to build over 2 dozen different micro-grids and community-scale solar systems in a dozen different cities on the island back in 2018, as a result of the damage caused by Hurricane Maria. It was called The Community Solar Energy Initiative (CSEI).
Another example was conducted by The Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico. They were responsible for helping to install battery storage systems and solar panels for 37 different community health clinics across the island… resources that were desperately needed to continue the care and well-being of those hit the hardest by the storms in 2017.
These are just a couple of examples of how this bill could actually be seen more as a response to not only the current state of affairs in Puerto Rico… but also to the underlying spirit of survival that is being perpetuated by its people.
By all accounts, the island seems intent on coming back from these disasters stronger and more independent than ever… an attitude to be applauded in a world where so many people seem so afraid of the challenges posed by transitioning more to renewable energy and away from fossil fuels.
Is it Going to be Possible?
Some people are concerned that Puerto Rico will lack the will and resources to make the new goals a reality. The island did, after all, have renewable energy goals before the storm that had not been met.
There is also some question about how the government is going to move forward in implementing the bill.
A law passed back in 2014 required the island to derive 12% of its power from renewables… though by the time Hurricane Maria hit in 2017, it was still creating 98% of its power through fossil fuels.
But there is also something to be said for the fact that the island suffers as a result of being dependent on the US as a territory, and not a full-fledged sovereign state. Some say that this is a barrier that needs to be broken before Puerto Rico can truly move forward into a more prosperous future.
There is presently a wide consensus that the goal of going completely renewable by 2050 is definitely achievable. The main issues seem to be that…
- The island is not totally sure how it is going to generate power in the interim
- There is no concrete way to figure out how much electricity will cost in the future
- There is concern over how ready Puerto Rico will be when the next big storms hits to further damage their already ravaged electrical infrastructure
There is also talk of using natural gas as a backup in the future, as there are still concerns that solar cells and wind turbines could be damaged in future storms.
The renewable energy climate in Puerto Rico is showing strong signs of life… but it still has a long way to go. The big question, then, is this…
How it will all unfold?
There are many challenges facing the island in the midst of these rather ambitious renewable energy goals.
But even with that in mind, one thing remains certain.
If they can pull it off (and many believe that they will), they will be much better equipped to move into the future without being so dependent upon an aging energy grid and expensive foreign coal imports.
Instead, they will be set up to live off of resources that come very naturally to the island of Puerto Rico… wind, water, and sunlight.
This describes a very bright future for the island and its people… and the world will be watching with eagerness as they work toward these optimistically aggressive, yet very realistic renewable energy goals.