Today’s Solutions: December 04, 2021

Puerto Ricans pay nearly twice as much for electricity as mainland Americans, yet random shut-offs and natural disasters like Hurricane Maria often leave many without power. In the wake of the hurricane, a social movement called Queremos Sol was born. Meaning “we want sun,” the movement outlines a feasible plan to transition Puerto Rico’s energy system towards onsite small solar grids.

Puerto Rico has set a goal of achieving 100 percent renewable energy use by 2050, yet currently, just three percent of energy comes from renewable sources. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approved $9.6bn to help the island reconstruct its energy system, and Queremos Sol is advocating that the money go not towards rebuilding the fossil fuel-based system but towards a green transition.

In addition to being more sustainable, local solar grids would also provide more resiliency in the face of climate-fueled storms. Removing the need to transport electricity over long distances means families would be able to restore power more quickly after an outage. Rosalina Marrero, a resident in the country’s Guayama province, lives with the asthmatic effects of a nearby coal power plant, but her rooftop solar panels offer some relief. In outages, she’s able to run her air conditioner and not worry about the food in her fridge going stale.

“It’s the best thing that’s happened to me. I thank God because my poor neighbors are suffering but I’ve always got electricity. I feel more secure, if we get another big hurricane like Maria, I won’t suffer so much,” she told the Guardian. 

Fortunately, Puerto Rico gets enough sun to meet the country’s energy needs with solar. In fact, they have four times enough sunlight for their needs. The efficacy of rooftop solar is evident in the town of Adjuntas. Here, the transition to solar has been happening for two decades, led by community organization Casa Pueblo. Sourcing funding from grants and nonprofits, the town has installed hundreds of rooftop solar arrays, focusing on key locations like vulnerable households, nursing homes, fire stations, a community radio station, and stores that serve isolated populations.

Moving forwards, Queremos Sol hopes to successfully advocate for the FEMA funds to be used for renewable infrastructure, but it won’t be easy. The government and two primary utilities, Prepa and Luma, have submitted proposals to rebuild with just a fraction of the funding going towards solar arrays. Ruth Santiago, lawyer and environmental policy expert for Queremos Sol told the Guardian, “Rooftop solar could supply all of Puerto Rico’s energy needs. It’s viable, sustainable, and more reliable than the current centralized system that the energy industry and authorities want to rebuild.”

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