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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Vieques groups, residents demand energy autonomy

By The Star Staff

Residents and heads of groups in Vieques wrote to private and public officials in charge of energy public policy to demand a decentralized energy and battery storage system for energy independence.

The open letter, dated October 9, was addressed to José Baquero, coordinator of Disaster Recuperation; LUMA Energy President Juan Saca, Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm; and Agustín Carbó of PR Grid Modernization Team.

The letter comes after LUMA Energy announced meetings in Vieques to ascertain residents’ opinions about establishing a microgrid system there.

Last week, the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau of the Public Service Regulatory Board announced an informal process to review regulation 9028 on microgrid development and gather comments.

The groups said they want to be consulted about any Vieques electricity generation, transmission, and distribution proposal before any project is approved.

“If you come to Vieques to gather the feelings of the Viequenses about our energy future, please submit your proposals and plans in advance so we can discuss them among ourselves first. The feeling of large sectors of Vieques is that we are interested in energy autonomy, that is, satisfying our energy needs through renewable sources and storage on the island,” the groups said.

The organizations said residents support electricity generation through photovoltaic systems “and believe there should be a significant component of this as distributed generation on our rooftops.”

Officials should refrain from building solar facilities on farming land or land classified as agricultural in the current Puerto Rico Land Use Plan or the Vieques Land Use Plan, the groups said.

Shortly after the passage of hurricanes Irma and María through the island of Vieques, the groups said they heard rumors that the federal and Puerto Rico governments plan to set up electric energy generation, transmission, and distribution systems of Vieques and Culebra.

Initially, in 2018, engineers from COBRA, a company hired by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), visited Vieques to design a modern “Smart Grid” to replace the collapsed electricity distribution network.

Then, in 2019, after PREPA ended contractual relations with COBRA, PREPA said on several occasions there were short and medium-term plans to address both the generation of electricity and its transmission and distribution.

“We then heard proposals such as replacing the submarine cable that has provided us with electricity for decades with a new cable. We heard, also unofficially, that PREPA was considering the placement of several new generators to replace the existing backup generators that, by the way, have never fully operated during the last three hurricanes (Irma, María, and Fiona). Later, there was talk, unofficially again, that the cable alternative would possibly be expanded so that the cable would make a kind of Big Island-Vieques-Culebra-Big Island circuit,” the groups said.

“Then, we were told that diesel generators would used as backup; that there were offers from companies like Tesla interested in building a mini-grid with renewable energy in Vieques; that the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was exploring the possibility of developing solar farms on former Navy landfills,” the groups said.

On March 29, FEMA issued a press release announcing the investment of $10.2 million for the first phase of a microgrid for Vieques and Culebra. The statement quoted Granholm as saying the project would generate 12.5MW of energy from solar for Vieques, produce three megawatts of power for Culebra, and cost $97 million.

In August 2023, LUMA contacted organizations and individuals in Vieques to obtain their opinions on the microgrid that LUMA will build in Vieques. LUMA has also indicated that in the coming weeks, it will be announcing a public meeting in Vieques to receive comments from the community on the project.

“Officials and Madam Secretary, six years have passed since Hurricane María, which completely demolished our electrical transmission and distribution system, disabled some 1,200 electricity transmission poles, destroyed the entrance facilities of the submarine cable to Vieques, and seriously affected the cable outlet facilities in Naguabo. All this resulted in us being without power for 141 consecutive days and with temporary generator service from the Corps of Engineers for 321 days. We do not know LUMA’s purpose for calling an open and public meeting in Vieques,” the groups said.

The groups also said they need to find out the outcome of suggestions made by Vieques residents on the energy future of the small island.

The letter was signed by Jorge Fernández Porto, Chair, ViequesLove; Lirio Márquez D’Acunti, executive director of the Vieques Conservation and Historical Trust, Inc.; Kathy Gannett of Vieques Community Solar Project; Pamela González, coordinator of Health and Acupuncture; Hilda Bonilla, an agronomist; Melina García of the Alianza de Mujeres Viequenses; José Díaz Martínez, a minister of Misión Todos Los Santos of the Puerto Rican Episcopalian Church; Yahaira Meléndez Sánchez, a community leader; Myrna Pagán of Vidas Viequenses Valen; Judith Conde of the Alianza de Mujeres Viequense; Ricardo Jordán, a Vieques resident, and Marie Cruz Soto, an educator, and Vieques historian.

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1 Comment

Oct 17, 2023

It's been my past experience that sometimes public officials hold public hearings for public relations purposes, not because they intend to change the policies that they have often already decided on. They can then say later that they held public hearings and allowed the citizens to express themselves. That is not democracy. That's just a charade.

It would be interesting to see if the newspaper reporting this follows up in a few months to see if the request from the Vieques residents for roof-top solar was going to be implemented, or whether instead, the government decided to do the solar farms which will remove more agricultural land from food producing uses.

I wonder if the "former Navy landfills" referred to…

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