September 29, 2017 Read More →

IEEFA Update: The Puerto Rican Solar Elephant in the Room

‘New Interest in Ways of Shifting Island Power Grids Toward Greater Reliance on Renewables’

The hurricane ravage to America’s “51st state” has sparked what probably strikes some electricity-sector experts as an unexpected discussion about how to solarize Puerto Rico.

IEEFA, informed by months of on-the-ground research and in conjunction with business and residents of the island, has been talking about it for a long time.

The good news—to the extent that there is good news regarding Puerto Rico lately—is that because of the failure of the current electric system, powered almost completely by fossil fuels, public discourse on how to modernize the power system with renewable energy is off the charts compared to where it was before.

The lead sentence in an article yesterday in the Washington Post:

“The ongoing electricity disaster in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria — and on several other Caribbean islands slammed at full force by strong storms — is driving new interest in ways of shifting island power grids toward greater reliance on wind, solar and even, someday, large batteries.”

Wired Magazine, on Wednesday, under the heading “After Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico’s Grid Needs a Complete Overhaul” quotes Judith Enck, the former EPA administer for the U.S. Caribbean, as warning against going back to the same-old, same-old and steering instead toward “massive new investments in wind, solar, geothermal, and other clean energy sources.”

Tom Sanzillo sounds a similar warning in an IEEFA post today in which he describes how “status quo” entrenched interests in and around PREPA are already angling to keep reforms from happening at an agency that has been mismanaged into disarray. Sanzillo is the Huffington Post as well, asking why none of the financial wizards with the fingers in the long-failing PREPA aren’t in jail.

Utility Dive, a widely-read industry website, reiterated IEEFA’s long-held view of how to help PREPA embrace reform and bring its electricity-generation ethos into the 21st century.

A far more sensible approach — and one that will help the commonwealth recover from its broader financial and fiscal problems while modernizing its costly and outdated electricity system — would be for Puerto Rico to embrace the potential in its abundant solar resources. Solar energy is cheaper and more resilient. It is a natural fit for a sunny island, and it offers a level of energy security to the commonwealth that it has historically lacked.”

The forces of darkness, if you will, would have it otherwise.

A group of lenders who already have Puerto Rico on the hook for billions of dollars in debt had the audacity to try to milk the unfolding tragedy by offering to further encumber the island with yet another billion-dollar loan (the Puerto Rican government said no thank you).

And the U.S. government has reacted bizarrely policy-wise through Rick Perry, the federal energy secretary, who has proposed dropping nuclear reactors on Puerto Rico from airplanes.

“Wouldn’t it make abundant good sense if we had small modular reactors that literally you could put in the back of C-17 aircraft, transport it to an area like Puerto Rico, and push it out the back end, crank it up and plug it in?” (In an article it published around this remark, SNL, an energy trade publication, reported astutely that “no such commercial products exist today.”)

Imagine how whoever played Rick Perry in a movie along those lines would draw cinematic parallels with Slim Pickens hollering “Yee-hah!” while he rode The Bomb to ground 53 years ago in the closing frames of “Dr. Strangelove.”

Related items:

IEEFA Update: Bankruptcy Court Should Reject Attempt to Turn Back the Clock on Electricity System Reform in Puerto Rico

IEEFA Update: Hurricane Maria Gives Puerto Rico an Opening to Break From the Past and Build a Modern Electricity Grid

PREPA Is Paying a High Price, and for Consultants Who Didn’t Get the Job Done