Sunnova to PREPA: Either help, or get out of the way

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With the holiday only days away, Christmas lights on the majority Roman Catholic island of Puerto Rico are sporadic at best as one-third of the island remains without power – and one solar provider says the island’s utility is doing its best to get in the way of its total restoration.

At least that’s the gist of the charges leveled by Sunnova Energy Corporation, the island’s largest provider of residential solar power on the island, in a letter to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA).

In the letter, which Sunnova also distributed to PREPA’s governing board, and Governor Ricardo Rosselló in advance of the utility’s board meeting, the installer expresses its bewilderment at what it says is PREPA’s ongoing inaction and a bewildering reluctance to work with it.

Sunnova was one of the first companies to rush to the island’s aid in the aftermath of Irma and Mariá to give its customers access to solar electricity. But the company said PREPA’s inertia has prevented its employees from finishing projects quickly.

“It is Sunnova’s hope that the board will be supportive of Sunnova’s work to assist in the recovery and restoration of electricity for its customers, and to create a more resilient, long-term power solution for the island’s energy infrastructure system,” the company wrote in the letter. “Following years of regulatory hurdles sanctioned by PREPA, which have inhibited clean, renewable energy through a competitive market, the utility continues to obstruct Sunnova’s ability to connect customers’ solar systems to the grid.”

The letter, dated December 13, was a high-profile attempt to get the solar installation process unstuck from what Sunnova called PREPA’s intransigence. The company also requested that the board provide a final and definitive date to complete this process.

“The lack of power over three months, and the reluctance of PREPA to work with companies like ours, continues to hinder relief and recovery efforts on the island—to the detriment of local residents,” said William J. (John) Berger, Sunnova’s CEO. “Now, more than ever, we must all be working with each other, not against each other.”

On Oct. 10, Berger met with Governor Ricardo Rosselló and other officials to discuss rebuilding the island’s electrical grid.

Sunnova-connected contractors currently have 10,000 projects in Puerto Rico to date. Sunnova has been working in Puerto Rico since 2014. The projects its members have installed make it the second largest electricity provider on the island, behind only PREPA.

The head of PREPA resigned in mid-November in the wake of severe criticism of how the utility responded to the hurricanes as well as the surprising decision to award an electricity-restoration contract to a two-man company in Whitefish, Montana.

The contract was eventually voided after public backlash and some speculation that the company won the contract because of their close relationships with Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke.

PREPA essentially filed for bankruptcy in July after years of financial difficulties, with critics alleging widespread mismanagement.