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The U.S. Department of Energy on Monday opened applications for $450 million to bring solar and battery storage systems to low-income households in Puerto Rico, and announced another $7.4 million in formula grants to bolster grid resilience on the island.
The solar+storage funding represents roughly half of $1 billion included in the Fiscal Year 2023 Consolidated Appropriations Act to help the island’s vulnerable households and communities. A second round of funding from the Puerto Rico Energy Resilience Fund, or PR-ERF, will be announced at a later date.
The federal government is working to improve the island’s fragile grid but the current rate of blackouts is “unacceptable,” Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said Monday.
Puerto Rico’s electric grid is fragile and the high frequency of rolling blackouts must be addressed as climate change brings more frequent and extreme heat waves, DOE officials said Monday in an update on the PR-ERF and other grid recovery and modernization efforts. Read also : Streamlined Solar Permitting App Surpasses 10,000 Solar Permits – CleanTechnica.
“Thousands and thousands of customers [were] left without power this summer, suffering in the heat. Puerto Rico’s grid experienced rolling blackouts — get this — 570 times more frequently than the North American standard” since Hurricane Fiona last year, Granholm said. “That should be seared into our souls because it is unacceptable.”
Natural disasters have bedeviled Puerto Rico’s power system in recent years, including Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, multiple earthquakes in 2020 and Hurricane Fiona in September. The Biden administration has pledged to help rebuild and restructure the island’s grid, with an emphasis on renewable energy and distributed resources.
There has been progress, Granholm said. Grid projects approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency have risen to 134 today, up from 44 in September, she said.
FEMA, under the Trump administration, authorized $9.6 billion to rebuild Puerto Rico’s power infrastructure.
“We know that progress is happening, but it’s not enough,” Granholm said. Solar installations on the island total more than 85,000 today, up from about 29,000 in July of 2021. “And that number is going to go a lot higher after today,” she said.
Applications for the first round of PR-ERF funds are due Sept. 18, and potential applicants may include private industry, non-profit organizations, energy cooperatives, educational institutions and local governments.
“Funding will also support consumer protection efforts to provide residents receiving solar PV and battery storage installations with ongoing system education, training, and consumer protection support,” DOE said.
The $7.4 million also announced Monday was included in the bipartisan infrastructure law and is administered by DOE’s Grid Deployment Office to “help modernize Puerto Rico’s electric grid to reduce impacts of climate-driven extreme weather and natural disasters while also enhancing power sector reliability,” the agency said.
According to DOE, Puerto Rico will use the funding to help provide resilient, cost-effective electricity to rural and remote communities, and create jobs and training opportunities for residents.