FEMA funds $97 million Puerto Rico microgrid with 15 MW solar, 12 MWh storage

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The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency is funding a $97 million microgrid project for Puerto Rico’s island municipalities of Vieques and Culebra. The project will include 15.5 MW of solar, 11.6 MWh of storage, and fossil generation in an amount that has not been finalized, FEMA said. The project will retrofit the islands’ existing 9 MW of generation that includes diesel generators, FEMA added.

The “solar backup systems” on the two islands, FEMA said, will enable medical facilities, schools and other critical service providers to function “in case the main grid fails.” The islands are located to the east of Puerto Rico’s main island.

The microgrid project is one of 21 projects across the U.S. territory that will “provide energy resilience and promote the use of renewable energy,” said Manuel Laboy Rivera, executive director of Puerto Rico’s Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency.

Priorities

FEMA said it has allocated $32 billion to help Puerto Rico rebuild after Hurricane Maria. Regarding the total solar and storage capacity across all FEMA-initiated projects in Puerto Rico, a spokesperson said that so far FEMA has reviewed projects under a $3 billion funding program that would include “over 10 MW” of solar capacity and “over 12MWh” of storage capacity. Those amounts include the solar and storage planned for the Vieques and Culebra microgrids.

Eight Puerto Rico organizations and the Center for Biological Diversity have filed a federal lawsuit challenging FEMA’s approval of $13 billion for the Puerto Rico utility PREPA to rebuild the territory’s grid “back to the fossil fuel status quo.” The lawsuit aims to redirect that funding, of which it says only a “small fraction” has been spent, toward “the distributed renewable energy Puerto Ricans need.”

Howard Crystal, legal director and senior attorney for the Center, said that FEMA’s “formal response” to the lawsuit is due in the next few weeks. The Center has also filed a Freedom of Information Act request backed up by a lawsuit to compel FEMA to disclose its funding for renewable and fossil generation.

Project stages

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) assisted in the preliminary design for the microgrid project for Vieques and Culebra through the use of the Microgrid Design Toolkit developed by Sandia National Laboratory, and workshops with community leaders.

The initial $10.2 million phase of the microgrid project will fund preconstruction activities, including architectural and engineering design services, a geotechnical study and an electrical load assessment.

The $86 million construction phase will include land acquisition, bidding and procurement, permitting, final design plans, environmental and historic preservation compliance, equipment, site work, construction, final testing and commissioning, project supervision, inspection, contingencies, and closeout.

The microgrids on the two islands will serve Vieques’ 8,000 residents and Culebra’s nearly 2,000 residents. The microgrids will connect to Puerto Rico’s existing transmission system with a submarine cable. The project is being funded by FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

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