Broad coalition unveils $17.6 billion plan to rebuild Puerto Rico’s grid

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In keeping with the famously short attention spans of most mainland Americans, Puerto Rico’s ongoing humanitarian disaster, including a dangerous lack of electrical power (nearly one-third of the island is still without power, according to the most recent estimates), has almost entirely left the news cycles.

Fortunately, the Puerto Rico Energy Resiliency Working Group (PRERWG), under the leadership of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, is still paying attention – and it has developed a plan to rebuild Puerto Rico’s power system using solar and other distributed energy sources. The 63-page plan, released yesterday, puts the cost of such a rebuilding at $17.6 billion.

According to the plan, nearly $1.5 billion of the money would be spent on developing a distributed electrical system, with the rest of the money being spent on building an infrastructure to support those investments. The distributed resources amount mirrors nearly exactly the amount of money Puerto Rico was spending before Hurricanes Irma and Maria on importing fossil fuels ($2 billion).

The PRERWG plan outlines its audacious plan for Puerto Rico:

A transformed electric power system for Puerto Rico is one that is designed with the resiliency to withstand future storms and is built with modern grid technologies and control systems. This system will deliver increased renewable energy resources, such as wind and solar; incorporate new distributed energy resource technologies, such as energy storage and microgrids; reduce the dependency on fossil fuels; and enable energy to become abundant, affordable, and sustainable to improve the way of life in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

Prior to the hurricanes, Puerto Rico’s utility Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) had plans to generate 20% of its electricity from renewable generation by 2035. To that end, it had built seven solar farms for a total capacity of 147 MW.

Though the report says the group doesn’t know the state of those systems currently, it recommends a transformational commitment to rooftop and utility-scale solar generation for critical infrastructure needs like hospitals, police stations and fire stations.

The report also recommends that remote communities – those for whom losing electricity has been the most devastating because of the difficulty of reaching them to restore power – establish distributed electricity resources to prevent them from being cut off should the main grid fail as it did earlier this year.

Nowhere in the report is there a discussion of who would pay for the reconstruction, though Cuomo has been pushing for the federal government to approve a $94.4 billion aid package to the territory.

“In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in New York, a plan was immediately put into place to harden and enhance the power grid to ensure storms would not damage our communities in the future – and now is the time to implement a similar plan to ensure these upgrades are also completed in Puerto Rico,” Cuomo said. “We need to act now to transform the island’s power grid and provide the people of Puerto Rico with a modern and reliable electric system.”

The Puerto Rico Energy Resiliency Working Group members include:

  • New York Power Authority (NYPA)
  • Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA)
  • Puerto Rico Energy Commission
  • Consolidated Edison (Con Edison)
  • U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)
  • Edison International
  • Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI)
  • Long Island Power Authority (LIPA)
  • Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA)
  • Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL)
  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)
  • Grid Modernization Lab Consortium (GMLC)
  • Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)
  • Navigant Consulting