The Center for a New Economy, which has analyzed Puerto Rico’s energy sector for 15 years, convened local and international leaders to rethink the island’s outdated energy model and define a new vision for a sustainable energy future during its “Black Start: The Future of Energy Summit” at the Puerto Rico Convention Center in San Juan.
This in the aftermath of Hurricane María, which destroyed Puerto Rico’s electric infrastructure and required the island to reactivate its entire energy system — a process known as a “black start.”
“Black Start is the first in a series of multi-annual events designed to provide a platform for lifting our gaze and imagining a bright energy future for Puerto Rico,” said CNE President Miguel A. Soto-Class during his opening address.
“We have brought together local and international decision makers and innovators to inspire us and help forge a new path toward our long-term aspirations,” he said.
Sergio M. Marxuach, director of Public Policy at CNE, followed the opening address and led a panel of experts to outline a comprehensive vision for Puerto Rico’s energy future.
In the following panel, community leaders and energy innovators presented their initiatives to the attendees, along with Puerto Rico Senate leaders Larry Seilhamer and Eduardo Bhatia, who discussed their bipartisan efforts to establish a regulatory framework to govern a modern electric system in Puerto Rico.
“Rebuilding Puerto Rico’s electricity system can help protect the island from future storms, improve the lives of its residents and strengthen its economy — but it must be done with respect,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund.
“We will listen to the people of Puerto Rico and bring communities and partners together in a transformational effort to give the island the clean energy future it deserves,” he said. “By building low-carbon microgrids in rural places that were hardest hit by Hurricane María, we can keep the lights on when the next storms strike.”
Malu Blázquez, executive director of ReImagina Puerto Rico, echoed the need to make sustainable investments and urged decision makers to implement actions based on local input.
“Through an inclusive and participatory process, ReImagina Puerto Rico published a comprehensive report with 97 actionable recommendations and six separate reports focused on key sectors,” she said.
“The energy sector report included multiple recommendations to transform Puerto Rico’s electric power infrastructure into an affordable, reliable and innovative system, while reducing adverse impacts on human health and the environment,” Blázquez added.
Black Start also featured Miguel O. Román, a Puerto Rican scientist and founder of the Universities Space Research Association’s Earth from Space Institute. He showcased his
award-winning work on NASA’s Black Marble satellite-imagery technology used to guide emergency disaster relief operations after Hurricane María.
A set of six “lightning rounds” also took place, allowing guest speakers to deliver concise presentations on existing cutting-edge technologies that could be considered for Puerto Rico’s energy future.
Lorraine H. Akiba, former commissioner of the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission, then discussed the parallels between energy production in Puerto Rico and Hawaii and stressed that resilient energy systems require investment in a diverse set of energy sources.
Panelist David Bissell, president of the Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative, also shared insights from Hawaii’s energy system, highlighting the role of energy cooperatives in increasing Kaua’i island’s renewable energy generation from eight percent in 2010 to over 50 percent today.
Beyond its list of speakers, the event also included exhibitions from local organizations such the Instituto Nacional de Energía y Sostenibilidad Isleña, which presented an award-winning solar car designed by engineering students from the University of Puerto Rico’s Mayagüez campus.
“We are grateful for the opportunity to support forums such as Black Start, which bring together a dynamic mix of experts to tackle the challenge of designing and implementing a robust, accessible new energy system that meets the needs of our communities,” said Colibrí Foundation President Mónica De La
Torre, whose support made possible the event and enabled the partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund.