Puerto Rico: Major Victory for People who are Electricity-Dependent
On December 6, 2022, 100 organizations wrote a letter to congressional leadership in support of the initiative proposed by Congressman Grijalva, alongside 37 other Congresspeople, requesting the appropriation of $5 billion for solar energy in Puerto Rico.
One billion dollars was allocated to Puerto Rico via the omnibus bill signed by President Biden on December 29, 2022, to support its energy grid and access to solar energy for low-income people with disabilities.
On Thursday, January 19, 2023, the House Committee on Natural Resources Democrats convened a meeting for stakeholders to discuss priorities and areas of concern for the Committee to address with the Department of Energy.
This funding will provide grants to low-income Puerto Rico residents, including low-income residents with disabilities, to purchase and install solar panels and batteries. It is estimated the project will roll out after the 2024 Atlantic Hurricane Season, cover 30,000 homes, and provide 150 megawatts of energy to households. This will only cover a portion of households. It was expressed that covering the full estimated need would cost $5 billion, as originally written in the initiative request by Congressman Grijalva and 37 other lawmakers.
There was considerable discussion about the need to provide grants to households with people with disabilities, especially to people with disabilities who are energy dependent, as this can be a matter of life and death. It is known that there are more than 40 thousand people who receive Medicare in Puerto Rico that are energy dependent, per emPOWER data. The importance of reaching out to the community in ways that are accessible and the importance of accessible training was discussed. The tension between involving the right people and rolling out the program quickly was acknowledged.
The need to adapt based on lessons learned in the past was also discussed. This included the need to prioritize local contractors and provide a Request for Proposals (RFP) with which they can comply.
Concern was expressed that although this language has passed in the omnibus bill, Republicans may try to use the debt limit to negotiate funding cuts. Advocates may have to fight for this again if this funding is cut.
Through discussions with staff it is evident there are still many unknown details of project implementation such as, how eligibility will be determined, what the application process will entail, and how maintenance and upkeep of equipment will be included. However, the Committee staff and stakeholders were clearly on the same page for the need for the program to include homeowners and renters, to prioritize households with individuals who rely on power to maintain health and independence, and to ensure there is no cost or burden on the household through this program.
Follow this link and go to pages 1884-85 for the language specific to the solar energy allocation for disabled people in Puerto Rico.
DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY
For an additional amount for ‘‘Electricity’’, $1,000,000,000, to remain available until expended, to carry out activities to improve the resilience of the Puerto Rican electric grid, including grants for low and moderate income households and households that include individuals with disabilities for the purchase and installation of renewable energy, energy storage, and other grid technologies: Provided, That the Department of Energy shall coordinate with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development on these activities.