Solar solutions create an affordable, resilient source of energy for low-income neighborhoods, most often impacted by natural disasters
[HARTFORD, CT] — Today, U.S Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy (D-CT) joined nearly a dozen colleagues in urging Senate leadership to include $5 billion in any future emergency supplemental appropriations bill to aid Puerto Rico as the island continues to recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Fiona earlier this fall. This effort, led by U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), would require the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to assist with installing rooftop solar and storage projects for low-income households and households with people with disabilities in Puerto Rico.
“For too long, the people of Puerto Rico have been deprived of a reliable, resilient, and sustainable energy utility. The urgent need for this resource has been made exceptionally clear after multiple natural disasters that have recently impacted Puerto Rico, including Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, several earthquakes in 2020, and now Hurricane Fiona. Each of these disasters caused a devastating loss of life, extensive structural damage, and the total failure of the territory’s centralized power grid,” wrote the Senators. “…Without power, businesses cannot operate, hospitals lack the resources to treat patients, schools must shut down, and residents are unable to carry out basic tasks for survival, such as keeping food and medication cool, powering essential medical equipment, or boiling water to remove contaminants when access to safe drinking water is scarce. Dependable energy undergirds a functioning economy. Low-income households and those with disabilities feel the impacts first and worst.”
Efforts to modernize the power grid have seen limited success, impeded for years by recurring delays in project submissions and approvals, technological failures, the persistence of the electric generation authority’s multi-billion-dollar debt, and a general lack of coordination between the entities responsible for developing Puerto Rico’s electrical system and disaster resiliency. Even though billions of dollars have been allocated towards aiding Puerto Rico in its recovery and resiliency-building, only a handful of permanent work projects have been completed and only a fraction of these funds have been expended by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
“In hopes that a private company would address historically abysmal service and high electricity bills, Puerto Rico privatized management of the grid to LUMA Energy, LLC (LUMA). Since they took over in 2021, they have failed to meet their own performance benchmarks and have overseen an increase in the duration of power outages,” added the Senators. “For these reasons and more, the market for rooftop solar and batteries [in Puerto Rico] is among the most active in the country. But a new residential solar panel and battery storage system costs about $25,000, while the median household income Puerto Rico is just over $21,000. Those without the means to buy or finance them are getting left behind. For many people in Puerto Rico, energy independence is a survival strategy, and it’s out of reach for those that need it most.”
A preliminary study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) PR100 program suggests that Puerto Rico’s high exposure to sunlight could potentially provide energy well in excess of current needs from rooftop solar power. The record of reliability of solar power in Puerto Rico, especially during a crisis is excellent and growing. Amidst island-wide blackouts caused by Hurricane Fiona, households and businesses equipped for solar-powered generation and storage fared much better than those who were reliant on the centralized grid.
“Nonprofit organizations, which have largely led and subsidized projects to install rooftop solar and battery storage systems in Puerto Rico, continue to share that their efforts have allowed critical services like hospitals and fire stations to continue operating and have provided residents with access to power while the island’s grid continues to be repaired,” concluded the Senators. “Nonprofits cannot bear the responsibility of developing Puerto Rico’s solar energy generation capacity alone. We respectfully request your support in asking that Congress provide $5 billion to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) through emergency supplemental appropriations to provide rooftop solar and battery storage systems for low-income households and households with individuals with disabilities throughout Puerto Rico.”
Joining Sens. Blumenthal and Murphy in signing the letter are Sens. Menendez (D-N.J.), Sens. Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.).
Find a copy of the letter HERE.