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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Hearing: Island lacks rules for disposal of solar panels & batteries

Rep. Luis Raúl Torres Cruz

By The Star Staff

While there is an increase in the use of renewable energy, such as solar panels and batteries, Puerto Rico does not have regulations in place for their disposal once their useful life is over, according to information coming out in legislative public hearings.

House Economic Development Committee Chairman Luis Raúl Torres Cruz has been conducting public hearings on House Resolution 243, which calls for a probe into the crisis caused by the installation, management and disposal of solar panels and solar energy storage batteries in Puerto Rico.

The Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER), the Sierra Club and the Puerto Rico Energy and Storage Association (SESA), the Department of Consumer Affairs (DACO) and the Department of Economic Development and Commerce recently shed light on the problem.

“Solar panels can have a useful life of 25 years and batteries up to ten,” Torres Cruz said. “However, the reality of Puerto Rico is that we already have many panels and batteries installed longer than they are supposed to be.”

Luma Energy reported recently that there were 25,000 solar panel installations when they assumed control of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s transmission and distribution network in 2021. By now the number has increased to 56,000 installations, Torres Cruz said.

DNER special assistant Samuel Acosta confirmed that there is currently no assistant secretary in the areas of land and solid waste services.

“Since when has there not been that assistant secretary?” asked Torres Cruz, to which the DNER special assistant replied that “for two years we have not had an assistant secretary.”

Torres Cruz said he plans to take a look at the DNER and see if the structure is functional or not.

“This situation is very serious,” he said.

Sierra Club spokeswoman Maritza Maymí stressed that it is necessary to create laws that establish the responsibility of producers, distributors and sellers of solar energy products in the development of plans for the recovery, management, dismantling, demolition and treatment of those products once they reach the end of their useful life.

She recommended that the University of Puerto Rico be provided with an appropriate budget so that research projects can be developed to create solutions for the management and reuse of the materials that make up the products associated with the generation of photovoltaic energy.

“This would create several necessary conditions to boost our economy in a sustainable way, creating new spaces for the production of knowledge and merchandise necessary to improve the quality of life,” Maymí said.

Other officials advocated for the need for Puerto Rico to comply with the law that requires it to draw its energy entirely from renewables by 2050.

Javier Rúa Jovet, chief policy officer at SESA - Solar + Energy Storage Association of Puerto Rico, declared that a broad power be used aggressively for Puerto Rico to comply with its obligation to generate, in or before 2025, 40 percent of the country’s energy. with renewable sources, mostly solar.

“This includes that Luma and the Electric Power Authority finalize the contracting of the relevant projects and ensure that they do not die in the bureaucracy and fragmentation of executive branch processes, including the permitting agency,” Rúa Jovet said.

“Right now we are facing a crisis of an existential nature, truly apocalyptic in nature,” he added.

Along the same lines, the executive director of Amanecer 2025, Juan Rosario, stated that in the medium term it is necessary to install and put into operation sufficient capacity based on renewable energies that allows the entire island to have the greatest resilience to face natural phenomenon.

Mónica Figuera Ramos, a DACO lawyer, noted that given the increase in the sale and installation of photovoltaic systems, DACO’s Renewable Energy Affairs Office has promoted the need to create a legal structure to address the issue of management and arrangement of solar platform components.

“We call on the Legislative Assembly to start developing the parameters of a single recycling program for photovoltaic energy system components as soon as possible,” the official pointed out.

According to DACO in its explanatory memorandum, the number of structures with photovoltaic energy systems before hurricanes Irma and Maria was around 2,000.

“Today that figure exceeds 75,000 residences,” Figueroa said.

When asked by Torres Cruz about the complaints that DACO receives about solar panel companies, Figueroa said she doesn’t know the exact number, but assured him that the volume is high.

The lawyer for the DDEC Public Energy Policy Program, Brendalilz González Méndez, said meanwhile that there are currently some programs or incentives that allow people with limited or moderate resources to obtain and install solar panels.

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