The Puerto Rico Association of Renewable Energy Contractors and Consultants warned Thursday of the possible demise of the government’s Green Energy Fund established in 2010 to incentivize the use of rooftop solar energy systems among residents and businesses.
José A. Guzmán, president of the trade group known as ACONER for its initials in Spanish, said the successful program has led to the integration of hundreds of systems islandwide.
“The budget for this fiscal year presented by the government and approved by the Oversight Board reflects an allocation of $7 million for the program,” said Guzmán.
“This despite the fact that Law 83 establishes an allocation of $20 million annually until 2020. As of today today we don’t know whether an amendment to the law has been presented to that effect. We’re talking about a dramatic reduction of 65 percent,” he added.
The Green Energy Fund was created to foster the development of green energy, reduce the cost of energy in homes and businesses, reduce the consumption of energy generated by non-renewable fossil resources such as oil, and in turn minimize the impact of greenhouse gases that are harmful to the environment.
Reimbursements offered through the program have been 30 percent for residences and small businesses, and up to 40 percent for larger scale projects. The law provides that the allocated money comes from annually collections of vehicle excise taxes.
The law provides that the funds are distributed on two levels of the program managed by the State Office of Energy Public Policy: Level 1 for projects up to 100 kilowatts (kW) capacity, and Level 2 for larger scale projects with a capacity of 100 KW to 1,000 KW.
According to Guzman, the program began showing administrative problems this year with unusual delays in project evaluations for Level 2 projects, which he said are taking more than the 40-day period the law establishes.
“Eventually and surprisingly, the suspension of Level 2 funding for the current fiscal year was announced on the program’s website with a short notice and without explanation,” he said, adding Law 83 provides that the program must accept requests for Level 2 refunds quarterly, beginning in July of each fiscal year.
“We are concerned that a similar situation may occur with Level 1 of the program, which receives requests for reimbursement for residential projects. The Energy Office told us that the first round of applications for this fiscal year will be delayed, possibly until September,” Guzmán said.
“Add to that a significant wait for reimbursement payments to participants. What previously took about three to six months, now is taking almost a year. There are cases pending from early 2016 that have not yet been paid,” he said.
“These delays undermine the credibility of the program and affect the economic benefit sought by the individual or entrepreneur who has already invested in the system. For Tier 2 projects, those affected by this situation are mainly local businesses that already made a substantial investments to reduce their energy costs and support themselves through the island’s difficult economic environment,” Guzmán added.
While acknowledging the government’s precarious fiscal situation, Guzmán warned about the potential demise of the “successful program that has been important for the development of renewable energy and positive for the economy.”
ACONER is a nonprofit organization founded in 2007 that currently has more than 200 active members.