Private solar energy co-op in Caguas certified by regulatory board

By John McPhaul

The Puerto Rico Energy Bureau (PREB) announced Tuesday that the Public Service Regulatory Board has certified Cooperativa de Energía de San Salvador, Pirucho Coop., as a renewable energy cooperative.

The cooperative aims to continue the development of solar energy in the San Salvador solar community in Caguas.

“The community is proud, and it has barely begun to sink in for us,” said Feliciano Rodríguez Domínguez, secretary of the Pirucho Coop. board of directors. “The process to get here has been intense and full of hope. We started from scratch, not knowing what a cooperative was, or how to start a local electricity company with permits, and without a penny. For the community it has been like a miracle. We share our story for those who think that something like this is not possible, if you don’t have resources; if there is community commitment, it can be achieved. Now we are going to analyze the steps to follow, which include adding 10 additional houses to the solar community, currently made up of eight residences, to see how we continue to grow.”

Pirucho Coop. will provide the eight residences with power generation services, using solar energy, along with energy storage systems. The systems are made up of solar panels, a battery, an inverter, an isolating switch, and a meter. The main source of energy will be renewable, and they will maintain the fossil fuel-derived energy of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority as a backup source. Maintenance will be provided by SunSol LLC.

The final goal of the cooperative is to achieve a solar community of 450 residences, out of the 730 that make up the community. To do this, the proponents of the initiative call on the cooperative sector and investors to be part of a community self-management project that contributes to energy conservation and the preservation of the ecological footprint.

The project to create a solar community arose from the vicissitudes caused by eight months without electricity in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

The first thing the Organized Community of San Salvador did, after analyzing and projecting its goal, was to try to attract investors from the United States mainland to be part of the development; however, those efforts did not bear fruit.

They then chose to study the benefits of establishing themselves as a cooperative and set out on that path hand-in-hand with the Puerto Rico Community Foundation (FCPR by its Spanish initials).

The vision was to have a robust system that was owned by the community, and that the community itself could manage, and that by doing so, the cooperative could lay the foundation for the establishment of a local micro-enterprise for the installation and maintenance of the solar systems.

Thus the community embarked on an ambitious journey, and along the way they found the support of the FCPR, which already had a history of strategic projects to access solar energy in communities in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

“Fundación Comunitaria has two virtues that we will always be grateful for. On the one hand, it has offered unconditional and direct collaboration, and has not replaced the decision-making process or local community leadership. It has always been clear that it is there to support the decisions of the community, and not to substitute for them. And secondly is the financial contribution that allowed the launch of this first phase, which otherwise would not have been possible,” Rodríguez Domínguez said. “Added to that is legal and technical advice. This is the first solar energy cooperative, but Fundación Comunitaria had already done work in support of other communities such as Toro Negro (the first solar community to own and administer the system) and Esperanza Village (the first microgrid certified by the PREB). And what they have learned they have shared with us.”

The FCPR’s portfolio of solar energy projects also includes 37 primary health centers, six community aqueducts, a hydroponics center, three mobile renewable energy systems, 30 residences in Loíza and five community resilience centers.

“Meanwhile, the FCPR has a solar energy access project in Culebra, and another that provides the infrastructure that would give access to this renewable energy source to the island’s 240 community aqueducts,” the cooperative said in a press release.

In addition, it is part of a team promoted by the Rocky Mountain Institute and the Rockefeller Foundation for the development of the Puerto Rico Community Energy Resilience Fund. And it is carrying out a feasibility study, co-financed with the Segarra Boerman Foundation, to explore the potential of a community energy corridor in the central zone of Puerto Rico.

“Fundación Comunitaria celebrates together with the community of San Salvador this historic milestone that comes from the very heart of the community and that is a reflection of the possibilities of self-management and community empowerment in Puerto Rico,” said FCPR President Dr. Nelson I. Colón Tarrats.

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