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A federal lifeline for households vulnerable to island’s frequent blackouts.
The Department of Energy announced last week that it will provide nearly half a billion dollars to install rooftop solar and battery back-up systems on the homes of some of Puerto Rico’s most vulnerable residents. The funding could cover the installation of as many as 40,000 photovoltaic systems, providing a measure of energy security to an archipelago long burdened by frequent and prolonged blackouts.
The program, which Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm outlined at an event in San Juan, is part of the $1 billion Puerto Rico Energy Resilience Fund that Congress approved last December. The fund is intended to provide reliable and affordable energy to the highest-need households, many of whom endure power outages daily or weekly.
After Hurricane Fiona left the entire archipelago without power last September, President Biden put the Department of Energy in charge of a multi-agency effort to overhaul the US territory’s energy system, which is in disrepair and depends upon fossil fuels to generate 97 percent of its electricity. The campaign includes a two-year study to find the most effective path toward Puerto Rico’s goal of achieving a zero-emission grid by 2050, streamlining approval processes, and deploying the billions of dollars allocated for Hurricane Maria recovery that have not yet been spent.
The effort will take years, and in the meantime, Puerto Ricans suffer from the persistent anxiety of not knowing when the power will go out next. In the last year, the number of rolling blackouts there exceeded the North American utility standard by 570 times, according to DOE.
“That should be seared into our souls,” Granholm told a group of federal and local officials, industry leaders and community members on Monday, “because that is unacceptable, and that is what we are trying to fix.”
The $450 million that Granholm announced will be directed toward the lowest-income households. It will be reserved for people who are medically vulnerable and depend on plug-in medical equipment, and those who live in “last-mile” communities, mostly located deep in the main island’s central mountain ranges. After Maria, some of these municipalities lacked power for nearly one year.