DOE says Puerto Rico can transition to ‘100% renewable energy’ by 2050 amid persistent blackout challenges

The Biden administration’s Department of Energy announced Wednesday that Puerto Rico can transition to “100% renewable energy” by 2050, based on a two-year analysis, the Puerto Rico Grid Resilience and Transitions to 100% Renewable Energy Study, also referred to as PR100.

The recently released PR100 summary report claims that Puerto Rico, a territory that has struggled with long-standing and persistent power outages, can achieve a “robust, affordable, resilient, and equitable energy system” powered by renewable energy by 2050. The report notes that reaching the goal “will not be fast or easy.”

Years after Hurricane Maria, a category four storm, wiped out power in most of Puerto Rico, the island continues to struggle with rolling blackouts and high electricity bills. Following the disaster, local officials moved to privatize the power grid’s operations, the Wall Street Journal reported in January 2023.

Luma Energy LLC, a Canadian-American power company, assumed responsibility for the aging and neglected grid in June 2021. Since the takeover, the company’s chief executive, Wayne Stensby, has stated that Luma underestimated the extent of the grid’s problems.

In 2022, Puerto Rico was hit by a category one storm, Hurricane Fiona, which caused an islandwide blackout for 1.5 million residents, CNN reported.

López Varona, with the progressive advocacy group Center for Popular Democracy, told the news outlet, “Because the whole system hasn’t been properly cared for or modernized, we are in a position where any time a storm hits or there is some sort of natural disaster, the whole grid falls apart.”

Last month, the DOE stated, “Natural disasters in recent memory have posed significant challenges to Puerto Rico’s electrical grid and the more than three million residents it serves. In September 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria caused most of the transmission and distribution system in Puerto Rico to collapse, leading to one of the longest blackouts in U.S. history and leaving residents in some parts of the territory without electricity for almost a year. Merely five years later, Hurricane Fiona again knocked out 100% of the grid for as long as four weeks in parts of Puerto Rico, underscoring the critical need for urgent electrical grid modernization in the region.”

The recent report outlines pathways for Puerto Rico to be powered only by “clean energy,” a goal established by the island’s legislature in 2019 through the Puerto Rico Energy Public Policy Act.

The DOE claims the transition will stabilize Puerto Rico’s grid and make it resilient to storms. Beginning later this month, residents can apply for the agency’s Programa Acceso Solar, or the Solar Access Program, which is “designed to connect up to 30,000 low-income households with residential rooftop solar and battery storage systems with zero upfront costs.”

Governor of Puerto Rico Pedro R. Pierluisi called the modernization of the island’s power grid one of his highest priorities.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm said, “The Biden-Harris administration is committed to equity-centered climate solutions that provide a direct and immediate benefit to those grappling with the persistent and lingering effects of climate change.”

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