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Culebra seeks to become a 100% solar-powered island

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm welcomed this goal during the second day of her official trip to Puerto Rico


Culebra – With at least 10 percent of its homes powered by photovoltaic systems and battery storage, the goal of making Culebra “the first solar island” in the hemisphere was the focus of discussions during the U.S. Energy Secretary Jenniffer Granholm´s visit Wednesday.


“Even though we are small and with few people, every one of our lives matter. We want to ensure that Culebra becomes the first solar island in the Americas and that we have sustainability. Sometimes, we are the last community to have services when we lack them in the entire island,” said Dulce del Río Pineda, coordinator of Mujeres de Islas, the organization that hosted the community meeting with the head of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).


Del Río Pineda estimated that with the right strategy, Culebra could be almost entirely powered by renewable sources in 15 years. The law establishes that Puerto Rico must meet 100 percent renewable electricity by 2050.


“In one or two years, we saw how an organization, Fundación Colibrí, invested through the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), and 45 of our families, including myself, could benefit, and today we have solar renewable energy. If this was done in one or two years with the support of an organization, what’s stopping us from coming all together with the same vision,” said the community leader.


She called to join efforts “at the government level, at the nonprofit level, and most importantly, at the community level”.


These 45 homes where EDF and the Colibrí Foundation have installed solar panels and batteries represent 10 percent of the approximately 450 homes with roofs on that island and do not include those Culebra families or businesses that decided to make their own investment in this energy system.


At Wednesday’s community meeting, attended by dozens of Culebra residents, Granholm welcomed the goal of transforming the island municipality of just over 1,300 people into a completely clean energy space. As part of the meeting, Jesús Cintrón of the Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience (COR 3) said the government is studying the possibility of creating a microgrid that would cover Vieques and Culebra. The system, Cintrón said, would allow for the generation of about 15 megawatts (MW), and another 12 MW of storage.


According to the COR3 official, the plan is to submit the proposal to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) within the next two months. FEMA has allocated nearly $9.5 million for Puerto Rico´s grid modernization.


During her second day of community meetings since arriving in Puerto Rico on Monday, Granholm visited Rosarito Morales´s home, one of the 45 beneficiaries of the program led by the Colibri Foundation and EDF.


“There are a lot of people interested in this. They already see the benefits, both during outages, like with (Hurricane) Fiona, many residents said that they didn’t even experience outages. Even on the bill, they see they are saving,” added Abimarie Otaño Cruz, an environmental scientist who works with EDF.


Otaño Cruz acknowledged that efforts like EDF’s could be accelerated by the $1 billion appropriated by Congress, much of which would be used to install rooftop solar systems for vulnerable families. To date, the DOE has not issued guidelines for the program, which could impact 40,000 households.


Granholm, on the other hand, visited the island municipality’s hospital, whose emergency room remained closed for nearly a year due to energy problems after Hurricane María hit Puerto Rico in 2017. Since then, with public and private funds, the hospital installed solar panels and has emergency generators.


However, currently, solar panels and batteries represent the third power option because LUMA Energy has not made the necessary interconnection to operate the net metering system. “It is not working at capacity with the solar panels installed, we are mostly still connected to LUMA’s grid. If the system fails, then the generators go down, and if they fail or run out of fuel, then the panels come in,” explained Dr. Belle Marie Torres, the hospital’s medical director.


Fuente: El Nuevo Día

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