Dear President Biden:
On the occasion of your visit to southern Puerto Rico to inspect the damage related to the passage of Hurricane Fiona, we take the opportunity to communicate the demand of Puerto Rican civil society for the urgent need to transform the electric system to provide resilient, renewable and affordable electric service.
As you know, the power outage after Hurricane Maria caused thousands of deaths. Now, in the two weeks after Hurricane Fiona, several deaths related to the lack of electricity have been documented. To a large extent, these deaths could have been prevented.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has allocated a historical amount of funds, $14 Billion, to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) for the electric system. In approving and disbursing these funds, FEMA should prioritize distributed renewable energy projects such as rooftop solar systems and batteries in homes, businesses and institutions in Puerto Rico, starting with the poorest and most marginalized communities.
In contravention of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), FEMA is on track to disburse the historic amount of taxpayer funds to rebuild the same vulnerable centralized electric system dependent on imported fossil fuels that has failed the population of Puerto Rico so many times and now even more so under the operation of LUMA Energy.
FEMA must comply with NEPA and Executive Order 14008.
It is foreseeable that rebuilding the same grid, as proposed by LUMA, will perpetuate the vicious cycle of destruction and reconstruction and loss of life. The plan to rebuild the 20th century grid is not in line with your administration’s policies on environmental and climate justice.
Recall that Hurricane Fiona was only a category 1 storm and only entered the southwest tip of Puerto Rico. LUMA Energy’s lack of an experienced workforce and basic vegetation management undoubtedly contributed to a total blackout by a hurricane that barely entered Puerto Rico (as opposed to Hurricane Maria that nearly reached Category 5 and went straight through the entire island). More than two weeks after storm Fiona, electric service has still not been restored to a substantial part of the population.
Hurricanes LUMA and Fiona have shown that only residences with rooftop solar and batteries have been able to continue operating without having to rely on scarce fossil fuels for generators that break down and fill the air with toxins when they work.
However, at the moment, only people with high incomes or with credit capacity have been able to access solar systems in their homes. Poor people cannot get loans or pay leases for solar equipment in the market. This deepens social and economic inequality in Puerto Rico.
Using disaster recovery funds already allocated to provide universal access to resilient renewable energy would save lives and put Puerto Rico on a path to viability. It would also benefit the federal treasury.
FEMA funds would allow PREPA to acquire solar equipment and, with its workforce, local installers and organized communities, install them in residences, businesses and institutions and charge a lower electric rate, as multiple studies have shown.
That is the We Want Sun proposal, a Puerto Rican civil society proposal to achieve a viable electric system. It is time for your administration to commit to distributed renewable energy, as emphasized so many times in letters, meetings and other efforts, and to do energy justice in Puerto Rico.
We Want Sun is a coalition of environmental, community, trade union and professional organizations that together promote the transformation of the electric system to a sustainable and resilient system, based on rooftop solar energy. The written proposal (www.queremossolpr.com) has been endorsed by more than 150 organizations and has thousands of individual endorsements.