The Verge is back publishing on Puerto Rico and the seemingly unending dilemma with the collapsing energy grid.
In the years after Maria, renewable energy and solar in particular came to be seen as a solution to Puerto Rico’s energy woes. It was cheaper and cleaner than imported fossil fuels and, if deployed in a more distributed system of rooftop panels and regional grids, better able to withstand future storms. In 2019, Puerto Rico passed legislation mandating the island convert to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 and redesign the grid to be more resilient. Crucially, there was money available to make it happen: an unprecedented $12 billion in disaster recovery funds appropriated by Congress to rebuild the island’s energy system. With funding, policy, and public will aligned, everything would seem to be in place to make Puerto Rico a model for the transition to a renewable, resilient electric system.
That has yet to happen, and whether it will remains unclear. In the five years since Maria, most of the progress has come from individuals and communities desperate for reliable power using their own money or an assortment of philanthropy and grants. There are many such initiatives, from community microgrids like Castañer to solar-powered water filtration systems, emergency solar arrays for medical devices, and the 40,000 individuals who have gone out and bought panels and batteries themselves.
But the renovation of the larger grid has been excruciatingly slow. Less than 2 percent of the $9.5 billion allocated by FEMA for permanent restoration of the grid has been disbursed, according to data from the Puerto Rico Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency. Puerto Rico gets only 3 percent of its energy from renewables, nowhere near its policy targets. The only major new generation project to be built since Maria is the conversion of several diesel turbines to natural gas, and the island’s utility is pushing to use FEMA funds to build more. The grid remains so vulnerable that when Hurricane Fiona hit, five years after Maria almost to the day, it knocked power out to the entire island before it made landfall.
In Puerto Rico, there is desire, need, policy, and money. So why is there so little progress?
Everyone agrees, why is there so little progress?