Focus is on expedited path to grid resiliency as Energy secretary meets with senior island officials
By The Star Staff
U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm traveled to Puerto Rico on Thursday to meet with local officials to discuss issues impacting electrical service and help enhance the use of renewable energy sources.
The trip follows President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden’s visit to the island after Hurricane Fiona when the president announced the new Puerto Rico Grid Modernization and Recovery Team.
As of Thursday, Granholm was slated to convene a series of closed-door meetings with senior members of the Puerto Rican government, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development in Puerto Rico, and local utility leadership to listen and learn about the issues impacting the island’s power grid resilience and recovery so that Puerto Rico can emerge stronger from intensifying extreme weather events that are exacerbated by climate change.
The Energy secretary will also engage with the Puerto Rico Grid Resilience and Transitions to 100% Renewable Energy Study (PR100) Advisory Group, which is composed of representatives across academia, community-based organizations, environmental advocates, industry, and government agencies to ensure the study reflects local perspectives and priorities. The PR100 Study is an effort led by the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Lab, which will identify pathways for Puerto Rico to meet its 100% renewable-energy goals in accordance with Puerto Rican law.
The islandwide blackout caused by Hurricane Fiona in September served as a stark reminder that the island is still very far from rebuilding a resilient grid. Of some $9.5 billion given to Puerto Rico to rebuild the grid, only a total of some $190 million has been authorized by FEMA.
“Billions of dollars of federal funds have been made available to repair, upgrade, and improve the resilience of Puerto Rico’s power grid,” Granholm said in a statement. “Yet five years after Hurricane Maria, with the bulk of those funds still unspent, there are still fundamental and critical faults in the island’s electrical system that threaten its reliability. This failure to act makes clear that renovation of the grid must be accelerated to do right by the Puerto Rican people. At the instruction of President Biden, the Puerto Rico Grid Modernization and Recovery Team, led by the Department of Energy, will support Puerto Rico in rebuilding an electricity grid that is more resilient, more secure, and capable of supporting 100% clean electricity by 2050. The Puerto Rico Grid Recovery and Modernization Team will work across the federal government — including with FEMA, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Department of Commerce — to coordinate technical assistance and access federal funding in an expeditious and strategic manner.”
“I will work closely with Governor Pierluisi to help identify and overcome impediments to swift infrastructure deployment to provide the island with clean, reliable, and affordable power,” the Energy secretary said. “In addition to the Governor, I have contacted Homeland Security Secretary [Alejandro] Mayorkas, Housing and Urban Development Secretary [Marcia] Fudge, and Commerce Deputy Secretary [Don] Graves to identify ways we can work together to expedite current rebuilding activities.”
Last month, Accion Group, an independent coordinator hired by the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau (PREB) to oversee the procurement of renewable energy on the island, launched a request for proposal (RFP) for Tranche 2 projects. Under that RFP, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) wants to procure at least 1,000 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy resource capacity and at least 500 MW (2,000 megawatt-hours) of energy storage resource capacity with an effective duration of two to four hours.
Prior to that, the PREB already awarded some 18 contracts for renewables. Puerto Rico has until 2050 under a local law to draw all of its energy from renewable energy sources.
At the same time, PREPA is currently under bankruptcy to address some $9 billion in debt. After rejecting a restructuring plan offered in 2019, PREPA and its creditors engaged in mediation to resolve the debt. But that mediation ended on Sept. 17, days before hurricane Fiona struck. The oversight board and PREPA creditors are in litigation and mediation to restructure the utility’s debt. The board must submit a debt adjustment plan for PREPA in December.
The governor insisted that the transition to renewable energy cannot take place without stabilizing the current generation system.
“As I have been saying, it is important that if we have the federal funds available, the Energy Bureau clears the way for all the improvements and all the optimization that we can make to those plants, in what transforms our system and we move to renewable energy,” Pierluisi said. “Put another way, the switch to renewable energy doesn’t happen overnight. You always need a base generation system and we need it in optimal condition. If we have the federal government assuming the cost of the improvements in the generating plants, we are going to go that way because in due course the ones that we have to disconnect will be disconnected to the extent that renewable energy replaces the traditional sources that we use to generate energy.
“Again, what I want is for all of us to be pragmatic,” the governor added. “We have to renew our system, move to renewable energy, but our people cannot continue to have interruptions or blackouts, wherever they come from.”