Puerto Rico can achieve reliable and equitable clean energy. Here’s what it’ll take.
By EDF Blogs
By Fred Krupp and Ramón Cruz , Sierra Club President
Puerto Rico sits in the eye of what’s been the busiest hurricane season on record with an old and historically unreliable power system. The all too common occurrence of blackouts left more than 400,000 people in San Juan in the dark hours before Tropical Storm Isaias made landfall on the U.S. territory this week. Isaias is the latest storm to test Puerto Rico’s preparedness after Hurricane Maria tore apart its electric grid in 2017.
Lack of funding to rebuild critical infrastructure and the Trump administration’s ongoing neglect have elevated the risk that unimaginable human suffering awaits with the next storm.
There are few places where social, economic and environmental inequality are on display more starkly than in Puerto Rico. Only months ago a series of earthquakes dealt another blow, causing widespread blackouts and leaving thousands of people without shelter in Guayanilla and other towns on the southwest corner of the island. Now, the coronavirus has halted an already struggling economy. Relief can’t come fast enough.
Energy is a lifeline for the people of Puerto Rico to access clean water, food and health services. Yet three years after Maria, work to rebuild the electric system has barely begun and blackouts are commonplace. Rural communities remain the hardest hit.
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Complicating matters is the premium Puerto Ricans pay for energy that is both dirty and unreliable because of an outdated, centralized power infrastructure. Most electricity is generated from old oil-burning power plants fed by expensive imports, then transported by a fragile, decrepit delivery system. The poor design, with heavy reliance on fossil fuels, adds to high electricity costs and air pollution that harms people’s health.
Many actions are required to right decades of wrongs in Puerto Rico. One of them is a reliable and resilient energy system built to withstand an increasingly volatile climate. But resiliency alone is not enough. Puerto Rico deserves a cleaner future that puts families and communities first in delivering safe, affordable and reliable energy.
Leaders in Washington and San Juan should look for solutions bubbling up from the communities across the island, which amid a global pandemic are even more exposed than they were before Maria. Policymakers can support them by removing barriers that maintain a centralized system and providing incentives for communities to invest in and develop distributed resources using rooftop solar and other innovative technologies.
Although the need to reinvent the electric grid to better serve all communities is obvious, there is a troubling history of special interest groups representing large energy projects being prioritized...