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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

US energy secretary names grid modernization director for PR

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Gov. Pedro Pierluisi

By John McPhaul

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm on Wednesday appointed Augustín Carbó Lugo, current director of energy transition at the Environmental Defense Fund, as director of modernization of the Puerto Rico energy grid.

In his new role, Carbó Lugo will work, on behalf of the Biden administration, with the government of Puerto Rico to unify efforts to modernize the island’s electrical system.

“Agustín Carbó Lugo made the Environmental Defense Fund’s community-based solar and storage capacity a reality,” Granholm said in a written statement. “His extensive knowledge and experience with Puerto Rico’s regulatory environment, and his empathy toward families affected by the energy crisis, make him a leader who will help address the territory’s climate and energy challenges, respecting the sensitivities of local communities.”

During his visit to Puerto Rico in October, shortly after Hurricane Fiona, President Biden said the Department of Energy would work more closely and effectively with local authorities to restructure Puerto Rico’s electrical system. The island aims to get 100% of its energy from renewable sources by 2050.

Granholm also said Wednesday that changing the operator, “whoever it is,” of Puerto Rico’s electrical energy distribution and transmission network may bog down the transformation process.

“We have had many conversations about the matter and I am not going to give at this time what my recommendations are because I still want to see this matter with a clear mind and I continue to learn,” Granholm said at a press conference. “Whoever is in charge of the transmission and distribution system we need to succeed. Nor do we want to delay the process. And that has to be considered. A change could delay the process; is that what we want? Or do we want the current operator to succeed? And our goal is, unless there is a change, is that the current operator, whoever it is, is successful. And I believe LUMA can do it.”

“We want every party involved in the system to succeed,” she added. “We want everyone to be able to bring to the table the urgency of speeding up the solution to the problem. The law has to be followed to the letter. LUMA has made some progress, but we want it to accelerate the process. Every piece of the system has to move faster. Possibly, we will have to get some of the waste and redundancy of bureaucracy out of the way, both at the federal level and in Puerto Rico.”

The Energy secretary said many opportunities are available for Puerto Rico to meet the goal of producing 100% renewable energy by 2050, but the bureaucratic obstacles that have delayed the process must be eliminated.

“There are a lot of cooks in the kitchen and we have to speed this up,” Granholm said. “This process has been too slow and that is unacceptable. It is unacceptable that $12 billion in funds have been obligated and only a small amount has been used.”

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia acknowledged meanwhile that the process of moving to renewable energy has been delayed.

“I have to admit that the process locally has been very bureaucratic,” he said. “Eighteen projects are basically in the works, after the [Financial Oversight and Management] Board and the Energy Bureau approved them and it was possible to negotiate the contracts in the hands of the Electric Power Authority.”

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