A group of Senators and Members of the House sent a letter to Deanne Criswell and Robert Fentor of FEMA, urging FEMA to make sure that $9.6 billion in FEMA funding be spent on renewable energy by PREPA, Puerto Rico’s electrical utility.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), U.S. House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl Grijavla (D-AZ), Rep Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY), and Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) are among the 14 legislators who sent the letter.
The central concern is that the funds may perpetuate the current system, which is centralized and relies on fossil fuel. Puerto Rico has made efforts toward greater reliance on renewable energy. For example, Act 17 set a timetable for Puerto Rico to reach 100% renewable energy by 2050. The letter also mentions the work of grassroots advocacy organizations.
Given the current effects of climate change on Puerto Rico and their expressed commitment to renewable energy, the legislators want FEMA to make sure the funds are used in an environmentally responsible manner.
Puerto Rico’s energy problems
The letter reminds readers of the disruption of electric service in Puerto Rico after hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, and the earthquakes of 2020.
In spite of Puerto Rico’s intention to shift to renewable energy sources, only 2.5% of current electric power comes from such sources. 75% is from imported petroleum and 29% from imported natural gas. “Puerto Rico’s dependency on fossil fuels,” the letter points out, “means its population pays two to three times higher or electricity than the mainland United States.”
The letter further details the problems caused by a highly centralized system. Fossil fuel plants in the south have to send electricity across the Island’s central mountain range to reach the northern part of the Island. This makes the system, the letter says, “exceptionally vulnerable to natural disasters.”
“These existing vulnerabilities will be compounded,” the letter states, “by PREPA’s most recent infrastructure investment plan.” That plan focused on fossil fuels, in contradiction to the twenty-year plan approved by the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau (PREB).
A better plan
The letter asks FEMA to encourage PREPA to spend funds on solar power, including rooftop photovoltaic arrays in a decentralized system. Such a system, say the authors, will lead to new jobs and be more healthful for the population on the Island.
This plan, they say, “would break the vicious cycle of disaster damage, reconstruction, and repeated impairment of the vulnerable, centralized transmission and distribution system.”
It would also extend the benefits of renewable energy to those who cannot afford to install solar energy systems for themselves.
Other signatories of the letter include Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Grace Meng (D-NY), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Mike Levin (D-CA), Mondaire Jones (D-NY), Kathy Castor (D-FL), Mark Takano (D-CA), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Darren Soto (D-FL), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Ritchie Torres (D-NY), and Jamaal Bowman (D-NY).