Biden administration promises ‘a year of action’ in drive to 100% renewables for Puerto Rico


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Dive Brief:

  • The Biden administration and Puerto Rico have signed a memorandum of understanding and launched a joint effort to accelerate the growth of renewable energy resources and strengthen the island’s grid, promising 2022 will be “a year of action” in the transition to 100% clean energy over the next three decades.
  • The Wednesday announcement comes as dozens of grid modernization projects near construction and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) prepares to sign contracts for 2 GW of renewables and 1 GW of energy storage.
  • The agreement can serve as “the springboard to a more sustainable and equitable Puerto Rico,” according to Agustín Carbó, senior energy transition manager for Environmental Defense Fund.

Dive Insight:

The partnership announced last week includes three federal agencies, the Department of Energy’s national laboratory system and the government of Puerto Rico. The group will complete a two-year study of how the island can reach 100% renewables by 2050, and meet a variety of interim targets along the way.

The study, “Puerto Rico Grid Resilience and Transitions to 100% Renewable Energy” (PR100), is expected to be complete in December 2023. It will include the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Homeland Security and Department of Housing and Urban Development, along with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and other national labs, and the office of the Governor of Puerto Rico.

The three federal agencies have been providing technical assistance to help Puerto Rico utilize more than $12 billion in federal recovery and grid modernization funding.

The partnership will help to “strengthen the island’s resilience, and in the process unlock its potential for cheap and abundant renewable energy,” Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said in a statement. Launch of the PR100 study shows that 2022 “will be a year of action to modernize Puerto Rico’s grid and increase energy resilience,” she said.

The island’s electric system was destroyed in 2017 by Hurricane Maria, and efforts to rebuild and modernize it are underway. Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi took office in January 2021 and said that the island’s energy transformation has been one of his administration’s top priorities.

“I will make sure that every federal fund appropriated to Puerto Rico and allocated for the reconstruction of the power grid is used efficiently and effectively,” Pierluisi said in a statement.

PREPA is in “final negotiations” for the first tranche of several proposed projects launching this year, according to DOE, including 844 MW of renewable energy, 220 MW of energy storage, and a pair of virtual power plants. The Puerto Rico Department of Housing this year will also implement a plan to enhance electrical system reliability and resilience utilizing $1.9 billion in federal Housing and Urban Development funds.

PREPA continues to own the island’s power grid, but LUMA Energy is now operating the transmission and distribution system — and there is significant work to be done. LUMA President and CEO Wayne Stensby called the island’s electric system “arguably the worst in the U.S.” at a Congressional hearing in October.

Puerto Rico’s renewable energy law, passed in 2019, requires the island to utilize 100% renewable energy by 2050, along with interim goals including 40% renewables by 2025, a coal phaseout by 2028 and a 30% improvement in energy efficiency by 2040.

The memorandum of understanding signed by the federal agencies and the government of Puerto Rico “will make a real difference in building resilient communities across the island,” Carbó said, including development of a framework to support “the production of clean, affordable and reliable energy and a long-term solution to Puerto Rico’s energy crisis.”

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