The Biden administration has one chance at a time to help Puerto Rico transition to a greener and stronger energy future, but it is at a cost of billions of dollars.
Hurricane Maria Following the destruction of Puerto Rico in 2017, many residents and environmental activists have called for new clean energy sources on the island. Puerto Rico currently receives more than 97% of its fossil fuels. Power is precious and incredible.
In 2020, Puerto Rico passed laws requiring 15% of renewable energy sources, 40% by 2025, 60% by 2040, and 100% by 2050. The island looks set to rebuild the old fossil fuel system.
As environmentalists and law professors, we are surprised to see FM moving forward in a direction that is in direct conflict with the White House’s energy and climate policy. President Joe Biden called for a government approach that promotes clean energy, protects public health and the environment, and promotes environmental justice.
In our view, FEMA actions do not support those goals. Federal agencies also neglect legal requirements to carefully assess the environmental impact of major actions.
Rebuild or replace with a more resilient green system?
In September 2017, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico at 155 miles per hour. The 100-mile[100 km]diagonal on the island has torn down tens of thousands of homes and washed away roads and bridges.
The hurricane tore apart the distribution and cell towers, concrete power poles, and beaten power plants and left the island in darkness. It killed an estimated 3,000 people and caused more than $ 90 billion in damage.
In response, Congress approved $ 23 billion in emergency aid, including at least $ 10 billion, to restore or replace the Puerto Rico power grid. We have passed the Disaster Recovery Act to introduce a more flexible energy system that can quickly withstand and recover from climate change.
The fund, which manages the fund, has allocated $ 9.4 billion to rebuild Puerto Rico’s power system and will begin approval of projects. So far, the money has not been spent on renewable energy, except for a small sum of money to repair the island’s hydroelectric dam.
The decision-makers in Puerto Rico are Luma Energy, a private company owned by the Commonwealth Electric Power Corporation (PPPA) and a 15-year contract to manage power transmission and distribution on the island in 2021. Prepa and Luma have offered hundreds of projects over the next few decades, but none of them include federal funding for roofing solar, community solar, battery storage, or micrographs. Advocates say that this small-scale local generation will make the island’s electricity cheaper, cleaner and more reliable.
Increasing public interest
Both PREPA and Luma are proponents of an energy strategy focused on importing natural gas. Federal law allows FM to take a broader approach and spend federal money in ways that support US environmental goals.
Courts have ruled that environmental justice is not a safe haven. In our view, the law explicitly requires that Procran, who has lived in the Cray power system for four years, be put on the table before writing checks for projects that will affect their lives.
Patrick Parentu is a law professor, Vermont School of Law, and Rachel Stevens, a law and labor lawyer, professor at Vermont School of Law.