November 16, 2022

Gillibrand Calls For Funding For Rooftop Solar Panels As Part Of Puerto Rico Hurricane Recovery

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) joined Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) in a letter calling on Congress to provide the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) with emergency supplemental funds for rooftop solar and storage solutions for low-income households and households with people with disabilities in Puerto Rico.

The $5 billion request would go toward assisting with rooftop solar and storage projects for Puerto Ricans in most need, as the island continues to recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Fiona earlier this year. The letter calls for families most impacted by natural disasters to be first in line to receive relief.

Each time there is such a mass grid collapse, Puerto Rico’s more than three million residents are left wondering how long it will last, and communities in the past have remained in the dark for several weeks or, in some cases after Hurricane Maria, months,” 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 island’s power grid have seen limited success, with Puerto Ricans continuing to deal with island-wide blackouts and frequent long-term outages despite skyrocketing energy prices. While billions of dollars have been allocated towards aiding Puerto Rico in its recovery and resiliency-building, families most impacted by natural disasters continue to worry if the lights will stay on in their homes and businesses.

 

A study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) suggests that Puerto Rico’s high exposure to sunlight could potentially provide energy well in excess of current needs through rooftop solar power. Experience has shown that Puerto Rican households and businesses equipped with solar-powered generation and storage fared much better than those who were reliant on the centralized grid. The record of reliability of solar power in Puerto Rico, especially during a crisis, is excellent and growing.

Senator Gillibrand’s request comes on the heels of having called on Congress and the Biden administration to provide funding for long-term investments in the resiliency of Puerto Rico’s key infrastructure, as well as robust humanitarian assistance for the Dominican Republic, Turks and Caicos, Guadeloupe, and other Caribbean nations impacted by Hurricane Fiona. Senator Gillibrand also leads legislative efforts that would allow Puerto Rico to participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), correcting the injustice done to the American island when it was excluded from the SNAP program in 1981.

Joining Sens. Menendez and Gillibrand in signing the letter are Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Tim Kaine (D-VA).

Read the full letter HERE and below:

Dear Majority Leader Schumer, Minority Leader McConnell, Chairman Leahy, and Vice Chairman Shelby:

We write you to ask that Congress provide the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) $5 billion for rooftop solar and storage solutions for low-income households and households with people with disabilities in Puerto Rico in an emergency supplemental appropriations bill. Puerto Rico’s electrical infrastructure continues to yield island-wide blackouts and frequent long-term outages, despite skyrocketing energy prices on the island, including seven price increases in recent months. Those most impacted by natural disasters must be first in line for relief.

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. Each time there is such a mass grid collapse, Puerto Rico’s more than three million residents are left wondering how long it will last, and communities in the past have remained in the dark for several weeks or, in some cases after Hurricane Maria, months. 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. These obstacles prolong Puerto Rico’s dependency on an outdated and fossil fuel-reliant grid, further deterring progress toward the territory’s renewable energy goals: 40% electricity generation from renewables by 2025 and 100% by 2050. Currently, only 3% of Puerto Rico’s energy is supplied from renewable sources. Further, although billions of dollars have been allocated towards aiding Puerto Rico in its recovery and resiliency-building, including $28 billion in Public Assistance funds from FEMA over the past five years and more than $20 billion provided by Congress to invest Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) in local communities, only a handful of permanent work projects have been completed and only a fraction of these funds have been expended by the government of Puerto Rico.

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.

For these reasons and more, the market for rooftop solar and batteries 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 the island-wide blackout 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. For example, Sunnova Energy, a residential solar installation company, reported that 97% of its customers had access to electricity after the storm. 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.

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.