Op-Ed: Biden has an opportunity to accelerate recovery in Puerto Rico
It’s a new day for the United States and Puerto Rico. With a new president and a new governor, Puerto Rico can turn a new page, and continue rebuilding — even better than before. This couldn’t come at a better time.
President Biden’s climate and clean energy strategy is the boldest, most far-reaching we’ve ever seen from a U.S. President. Under this plan, Puerto Rico should receive federal support in reaching its own far-sighted clean energy goals.
In doing so, the island can become a model of resilience and innovation for the nation and the Caribbean.
During the campaign, Biden’s Build it Back Better agenda included an unambiguous commitment to support Puerto Rico’s full recovery, including the reconstruction and improvement of its energy infrastructure. Now, his administration has a unique opportunity — and a responsibility — to follow through on these promises.
Communities have not waited for things to happen; since Hurricane María hit in 2017, many have taken matters into their own hands to develop small-scale solar energy projects that deliver clean and resilient power.
Now the federal government, through the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and others, should bolster efforts on the ground by providing financial support and technical assistance, and by removing barriers to progress — all while tackling the negative impacts of climate change.
To do this, Puerto Rico needs:
- The Biden Administration to release billions of dollars appropriated following Hurricane María to modernize the electric grid and to provide solar and storage technology to residents throughout the Puerto Rico, particularly in low-income communities.
- A new federal stimulus package to pass that includes funding to support clean, resilient energy and jobs in Puerto Rico. Funding should be targeted toward:
- Boosting energy efficiency and lowering utility bills for low- and middle-income families including proven, Puerto Rico-appropriate weatherization programs such as solar water heaters.
- Increasing and accelerating community access to clean, resilient and distributed energy resources, such as solar and storage through programs and incentives that enhance community resilience and improve grid reliability via aggregated DERs.
- Upgrading the electric grid to better enable distributed energy resource integration, optimization and flexibility in support of Puerto Rico’s clean energy mandate of sourcing its energy from renewable sources by 40% by 2025 and 100% by 2050.
- Support for building a world-class workforce that can implement Puerto Rico’s energy transition and support economic recovery by connecting job seekers with training and employment opportunities.
- Federal funding to be deployed in ways that maximize private capital at larger scale. This could be done by creating a green bank/green fund either at the federal level, with an initiative specifically focused on Puerto Rico, or through an independent Puerto Rican version. The Coalition for Green Capital estimates that, for a federal green bank, every dollar invested up front would unleash more than four dollars in private capital for job-creating projects.
Puerto Rico deserves a community-centered electric system that will deliver clean, affordable and reliable electricity — one that is sustainable and will protect people from future superstorms.
President Biden’s “all-hands-on-deck” approach can ensure Puerto Rico gets the support it needs from all corners of the federal government to meet the needs of local communities.