Hurricane Maria proved that Puerto Rico is the ideal place for 100% distributed renewable energy. The storm virtually wiped out the entire energy grid on the island, most of which was constructed 60 years ago or more. For decades, the island has depended on diesel generators for its electricity. The generating stations were almost all located in the south part of the island and the electricity was transported via antique transmission lines to the north side of the island.
All that most people know about Puerto Rico is Old San Juan and the nearby beaches, but the interior of the island is extremely rugged terrain where access to downed transmission lines is difficult under the best of circumstances. Maria toppled many of the pylons and towers that supported the transmission lines, leading to months of delay in restoring power until they could be rebuilt.
Even assuming a robust grid infrastructure, relying on diesel for electricity is absurd. Not only is it expensive to import millions of gallons of diesel fuel, the emissions from the generating plants are injurious to the health of all the people living nearby. Diesel and coal are the dirtiest fuels for making electricity. Why would people in the 21st century want to be saddled with the fallout for either one?
On March 25, the Puerto Rico Senate passed bill PS 1121, which establishes a renewable energy portfolio standard for the island. It calls for 100% renewable energy by the year 2050. The bill will now go to Governor Ricardo Rosselló for his signature. Rosselló has been a staunch supporter of renewable energy for the island and is expected to approve the new legislation shortly.
“This bill is a huge step in building a sustainable future for Puerto Rico,” said Senator Eduardo Bhatia, a leading proponent of PS 1121. “Now we can move forward in developing an economy built on strong foundations that will provide more opportunities for future generations. By embracing renewable energy, our islands can reduce the reliance on fossil fuels, benefiting both the natural environment and our economy.”
According to Forbes, the law will bring lower cost electricity to the island and promote a network of distributed microgrids that will help avoid the prolonged power outages that followed in the wake of Hurricane Maria. It lists the following key points of the legislation:
- 100% renewable energy by 2050 and 40% by 2025.
- Banning coal plants starting in 2028.
- 90-day interconnection for solar net-metered systems 25kW to 5MW.
- Automatic interconnection & 30-day net-metering for solar under 25kW.
- A requirement for utilities to purchase solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) for renewable portfolio standard (RPS) compliance.
- Maintains “true net metering” for the next 5 years, with 20 year grandfathering for new clients.
- Requires streamlined permitting of utility-scale ground-mounted solar projects for the next 5 years, with 20 year grandfathering for new clients.
- Eliminates the ability of the utility to deny interconnection because of “full feeder”, or “right of way” issues.
- Eliminates 5-year recertification requirement for net metered systems, with no need for people to go to the utility to get recertified every 5 years as is currently the case.
- Systems installed under post-Maria Executive Order remain legally interconnected.
- Bans all solar production taxes and clarifies that Sales & Use Tax Exemption applies to energy storage and leased systems.
- Implements a 30% energy efficiency requirement.
The fly in the ointment is the ban on new coal-fired generating plants after 2028. Look for the Trump maladministration to shove one or two of those down Puerto Rico’s throat as it continues to prefer corporate interests over the health of people and the environment.
P.J. Wilson, President of the Solar & Energy Storage Association of Puerto Rico, tells Forbes, “Policymakers have listened to the solar and storage industry leaders’ input. PS 1121 eliminates many of the barriers that have frustrated solar deployment for years and creates a strong vision for ramping up clean energy, but implementing the law will require strong continued industry collaboration before the utility’s regulator and other agencies.”
The Environmental Defense Fund Will Lend A Hand
In an e-mail to CleanTechnica, the Environmental Defense Fund says it will support a holistic approach to rebuilding Puerto Rico’s energy grid.
“EDF will design and integrate one or more community-scale low-carbon microgrid systems to bring reliable, affordable energy to communities in these remote locations. These systems will use local renewable resources to produce enough electric power to meet a community’s daily electricity needs reliably. They can help an area ride out a blackout without relying on traditional, dirty sources of energy.
“With support from Fundación Colibrí, EDF will approach grid reconstruction holistically by offering technical expertise and innovative ideas to modernize the grid, devising sustainable financing tools and participating in energy reform initiatives.”
By putting the focus on sustainable energy solutions and distributed renewables, Puerto Rico is in a position to become a model for how to transition away from fossil fuels for making electricity. What happens there can be a guide for other islands, all of which suffer from the economic and environmental impacts of relying on fossil fuels to generate electricity.
Together, those islands could have a direct impact on how the rest of the nations of the world address the issues of climate change from a warming planet. After all, if you look at the Earth from space, all the continents are islands. It’s just that some are larger than others.
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