[OPINION] Puerto Rico has the opportunity to build a clean energy grid once in a lifetime.

Biden’s administration has once in a lifetime a chance to help Puerto Rico move to a greener and more resilient force, but it is on the verge of making a multi-billion dollar mistake.

A.D. Following Hurricane Puerto Rico in 2017, many residents and environmental activists called for new clean energy sources on the island. Currently, Puerto Rico receives more than 97% of its electricity from imported fossils. Power is not expensive and reliable.

Puerto Rico has passed laws requiring 15% of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020, 40% by 2025, 60% by 2040 and 100% by 2050. The island seems to be ready to rebuild the old fossil fuel system.

As environmental advocates and law professors, we are surprised to see FEMA moving in direct opposition to the White House’s energy and climate policy. President Joe Biden called for a government that promotes clean energy, protects public health and the environment, and promotes environmental justice.

In our view, FEMA measures do not support those goals. Federal agencies also neglect legal requirements to carefully assess environmental impact on key activities.

Rebuild or replace with a stronger green system?

In September 2017, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico at 155 miles per hour. On the island, a 100-mile-long tornado ripped through tens of thousands of homes and washed away roads and bridges. The storm overturned transmission and cell towers, nailed concrete poles, beat power plants, and plunged the island into darkness. It killed an estimated 3,000 people and injured more than $ 90 billion.

In response, Congress approved $ 23 billion in disaster relief, including at least $ 10 billion to renovate or replace Puerto Rico’s power grid. Approved the Disaster Recovery Act to introduce a more flexible energy system that can quickly and effectively cope with climate change.

The FMA, which manages the money, has allocated $ 9.4 billion to rebuild Puerto Rico’s electrical system and will begin approving projects after receiving more details on how the work will be done. So far, less than 1% of the island’s energy reserves have been allocated for renewable energy.

Luma Energy, a private company known as the Commonwealth Electric Power Authority (PREPA), has signed a 15-year contract to oversee power distribution on the island in 2021. Prepa and Luma have offered hundreds of projects over the next decade, but none of them have included federal funding for roofing, community solar, battery storage or microgrid support. Advocates say that this small generation of locals will make the island’s electricity cheaper, cleaner and safer.

A.D. A 2015 study by the Non-Profit Energy Economics and Financial Analysis Institute: Investing in solar and wind energy and energy efficiency could turn Puerto Rico’s electrical system into a grid. A.D. By 2020, the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that solar panels on the roof in Puerto Rico will generate four times more electricity than its current residents.

Federal law requires weighing options

Spending nearly $ 10 billion to renovate an island with a population of 3 million is a major environmental step. Agencies that take such action under the National Environmental Policy Act must prepare a comprehensive environmental impact statement that considers options and invites meaningful public opinion.

PREPA and Luma’s plan includes rebuilding and strengthening all of Puerto Rico’s transmission lines and at least two new natural gas-generators. More natural gas combustion affects air and water quality and contributes to climate change. Natural gas is exported to Puerto Rico in liquid form, so using it extensively means expanding import facilities and pipelines.

Instead of issuing a comprehensive environmental impact statement, the FMA has developed a comprehensive program environment review – a narrow study that does not weigh other options. Puerto Rico’s fossil fuels have been rebuilt and concluded that “no significant impact” will be achieved. The study did not mention climate change;

In addition to the Proforma invitation to the public, FEMA has made no effort to engage with color communities in Porto Rico’s energy system, which is inconsistent with pollution and climate change. This directly contradicts Biden’s order to place environmental justice at the Federal Energy and Climate Policy Center.

The National Environmental Policy Agency requires agencies to “study, develop and identify appropriate options for recommended action courses.” The FEMA Environmental Review only focuses on rebuilding and strengthening the existing grid, and does not mention renewable energy. While some commentators criticized this defect, the FMA responded that it was not responsible for considering alternative power generation methods.

Promoting Public Interest

Both PREPA and Luma are proponents of an energy strategy focused on importing natural gas. Federal law requires the FMA to take a broader approach and ensure that federal funds are spent in ways that support US environmental goals.

The courts believed that local justice was not a safe haven. In our view, the law explicitly requires FEMA to provide Puerto Rikos, which has been in a power crisis for four years at the table, before writing checks for life-threatening projects.

– This article has been republished for discussion with a Creative Commons license.

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