Puerto Rico gov presents energy plan to visiting congressional delegation
SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said Tuesday that with the transformation of the island’s electric power system after Hurricane María, what’s expected is a leap toward having 25% of the island’s energy produced by renewables, a system strengthened by microgrids, smartly distributed energy and increased energy production in the north.
This was the vision for the energy system Rosselló emphasized to a congressional delegation that visited the island Tuesday to see the damage left by the historic hurricane, particularly to the power grid.
“I believe all of them approved of it,” the governor said.
The objective first includes a significant switch to renewables, which includes projects to produce solar and wind energy. “We want to make a quantum leap from 20% to 25% of the generation to come from renewables,” he said.
Secondly, Rosselló told the visiting members of Congrees that he hoped to decentralize the island’s power infrastructure with the use of microgrids, so if one network is compromised, others continue unaffected. With regard to smart energy distribution, the governor said the plan included components of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department’s STEP program on the island.
This program helps rebuild homes, and solar panels that feed power to batteries can be included in their restoration. The governor said he believes 20,000 to 70,000 homes could opt for that alternative. “As we reach a critical mass, one can redirect where the energy is going,” he said.
Before the governor made his comments, the delegation, headed by Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, expressed support not only for the prompt restoration of electricity on the island, but also for a transformation into a “more resilient” grid. The U.S. lawmakers saw the solar energy system recently installed by Tesla at the Children’s Hospital, visited the Palo Seco power plant in Toa Baja and visited the town of Barranquitas by helicopter, where there are numerous bridges, roads and houses destroyed, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González said.
Murkowski said her emphasis will not only be on promptly rebuilding the grid after its collapse on Sept. 20, but also on making the system more resistant to hurricanes, although she acknowledged it will be a challenge.
“I saw solar panels that looked like someone kicked them, and [wind turbine] blades that came loose. Is it possible to make it completely safe for hurricanes, to have real resilience?” wondered Murkowski, who is chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and member of the Subcommittee on Department of Defense. “We have a big job to do,” she said.
The chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, Rep. Bill Shuster, a Republican from Pennsylvania, as well as the other members of the delegation, supported the approval of amendments submitted by González and Rep. José Serrano (D-NY) to amend the Stafford Act so the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can transform the power system. Currently, funds can only be used to restore the system to its original state and not to transform it.
Both Democratic Sen. Tom Carper, member of Environment and Public Works Committee, and Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio, member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, expressed the need to turn Puerto Rico into a model of what reconstruction should be.
All assured they will help Puerto Rico rebuild its infrastructure “until the end.”
The other members of the visiting delegation were Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), member of the Energy and Natural Resources, Finance, and Veterans Affairs committees; Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), member of the Judiciary, and Energy and Natural Resources committees; Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), member of the Environment and Public Works, and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees; and Rep. Garrett Graves (R-LA), member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
The visit also served for the delegation to learn what infrastructure needs the island has. It is not the same to see it on TV than to be there, they said.