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Puerto Rico struggles to reach its clean energy goal despite Biden’s support

A year later, characterized by a major power outage, a hot resignation by civil servants, and widespread protests on the streets of Puerto Rico, the Biden administration will help the U.S. territory move rapidly to renewable energy. We are responding to the calls from the residents of.

Biden has been allocated over $ 12 billion to boost Puerto Rico’s tattered power grid and boost its struggling economy towards the territorial groundbreaking 2019 Clean Energy Act goals. Promised to coordinate aid Agreement The administration and the Government of Puerto Rico arrived in February.

The law requires that 100% of the region’s electricity be sourced from renewable energy sources by 2050. The law also sets ambitious benchmarks, including 40% by 2025 and 60% by 2040.

Environmentalists celebrated the February agreement.Many residents have called for a record amount of incoming federal aid Opportunity for “once in a generation” Build a modern energy system in Puerto Rico powered by solar and wind energy.

However, Puerto Rico’s utility, the Puerto Rico Electricity Authority (PREPA), said this month that it does not believe it will reach its first goal.

Josué Colón, Executive Director of PREPA, said:Spanish At a hearing March 3 for the Senate Energy Commission in Puerto Rico.

His answer immediately questioned the utility’s commitment to the obligations of the law, known as Law 17, with a coalition of executives and academics, local businesses and environmental groups calling for the rapid construction of renewable energy. It highlighted the heightened tension between them. Island, especially rooftop solar.

Many in the coalition have also accused PREPA of being “hostaged” by the powerful gas industry, which is currently playing a role in Puerto Rico’s efforts to repay the huge debt that is squeezing the economy.

When Puerto Rico passed Article 17, its supporters saw it as the best way to avoid the kind of devastation that the territory experienced under the influence of Hurricane Maria.

A category 4 storm, the 2017 hurricane, killed nearly 3,000 people, uprooted many of the Caribbean island’s power grids, and left millions of people out of power for months. In some parts of Puerto Rico, electricity has not been restored for nearly a year.

Energy analysts and climate activists say renewable energy, when combined with batteries and smaller power grids, is suitable for withstanding the devastating storms the region faces as the climate crisis worsens. Solar and wind energies avoid the complexity associated with fuel imports, and a small grid prevents widespread power outages when major power plants go offline or major transmission lines go down. Useful for.

Climate experts also say that in order to avoid the worst consequences of global warming predicted at the end of the century, governments around the world will have to make a rapid shift from fossil fuels to renewables in the coming decades. increase.

But five years after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico is struggling to realize its vision of clean energy, despite the Biden administration’s promise to align federal investment with local clean energy legislation.

Colon, Managing Director of PREPA, said Puerto Rico expects to draw only a quarter of total electricity from solar, wind and hydropower by 2025. According to the US Energy Information Administration, the region currently generates only 3 percent of its total electricity from renewables. Latest energy profileHowever, Colon said at a hearing on March 3 that this number was close to 5 percent.

In hearing, Colon also suggested that Puerto Rican lawmakers consider investigating and coordinating territorial clean energy targets to better adapt to the current situation.

LUMA Energy, a private company founded last year by an investment company specializing in gas energy infrastructure and utility management, is part of PREPA’s broader plan to address its $ 9 billion utility debt. I took over the power transmission system. American creditors bought a significant portion of their debt a few years ago, hoping to be repaid at interest after federal disaster relief began to flow to Puerto Rico.

Already, more than $ 4.6 billion of projects to repair and upgrade Puerto Rico’s power system have been approved for funding by local regulators, and construction is expected to begin this year. However, none of the more than 100 projects approved so far by the Puerto Rico Energy Authority include new renewable energy, Government documents Review by InsideClimateNews.

According to a document submitted to the Puerto Rico Energy Authority at the end of last year, the utility is also planning to build a new natural gas-fired power plant on the north coast of the island. Power companies will submit the results of feasibility studies conducted on power plants next month, and the Environmental Group is calling on energy regulators to stop further public funding for these studies. increase.

“It will definitely be disposable to allow PREPA or its contractors to continue researching their options with public funds,” said Puerto Rico, representing an environmental group challenging PREPA’s gas infrastructure program. Ruth Santiago, a longtime environmental lawyer for the company, said. “If renewable energy is 3% and gas is 44%, what does that mean? How do you diversify? You go to renewable energy.”

PREPA officials say Old fossil fuel facilities need to be renewed and new gas-fired power plants built to stabilize and strengthen Puerto Rico’s poor energy grid to withstand storms. .. Power companies also say they can pursue plans to develop new gas power plants and gas supply systems on the island’s north coast in a way that does not interfere with the region’s renewable energy obligations.

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LUMA Energy also opposed accusations that it did not do enough to advance its renewable energy project in Puerto Rico. The company has processed thousands of requests to connect privately owned solar systems to the island’s grid. These requests remained unprocessed before LUMA took over, but thousands more requests remain unprocessed.

“People are trying to portray us as an anti-sun, but that is absolutely not true,” LUMA Energy CEO Wayne Stensby said at a parliamentary inquiry in October.

Most Puerto Ricans see renewable energy as the future of the island, but there is disagreement about how to get there. Some local officials say that installing more natural gas helps stabilize the island’s broken grid and is needed to provide Puerto Rican manufacturers with the kind of large electricity they need. It claims to give priority to it. However, energy analysts question that approach and warn that building a new fossil fuel infrastructure will only make the transition from it more difficult and costly later. For example, a new gas-fired power plant is intended to operate for at least 30 years and may incur construction costs for decades.

In 2019, PREPA officials proposed the construction of several new gas-fired power plants, including those near San Juan and in the south near Yabucoa. Utility also wanted to build a new gas terminal to service the plant.

The Puerto Rico Energy Authority has rejected these proposals as violating Law 17. In 2020, the agency ordered PREPA to raise contracts for at least 3.5GW of renewable energy development and 1.5GW of battery storage by 2025. However, these efforts are more than a year behind schedule and about two-thirds of the required contracts have not yet been fulfilled.

Some proponents of clean energy are concerned that utilities will not be able to carry out their renewable energy efforts. Ten years ago, Puerto Rico passed a renewable portfolio standard that requires the region to obtain 20% of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2035. However, PREPA has built only six of the 65 power purchase agreements signed by the utility as part of the plan. Carlos Velázquez, program director of the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, a clean energy advocate, said it meets that standard.

Still, Velázquez said the new agreement with the Biden administration would allow utilities to reach a subsequent benchmark in Puerto Rico’s clean energy law, especially if civil servants began to consider building solar energy on the island more seriously. He said it could help get back on track. A 2021 study According to the Energy Economics and Financial Analysis Institute, an energy research firm, rooftop solar can reasonably generate 75% of Puerto Rico’s total electricity within 15 years.

As part of the February agreement, the Biden administration will also fund key research aimed at providing a roadmap on how Puerto Rico can achieve its clean energy goals. Velazquez is on the advisory board for the study, which is due to be completed in 2024.

“Just because it doesn’t reach 40% [by 2025] It doesn’t undermine my optimism, “Velázquez said. “Once we have all the right components, I think we can reach the critical mass and critical speed.” Puerto Rico struggles to reach its clean energy goal despite Biden’s support

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