San Juan, Puerto Rico
Wednesday, November 2, 2022
Thank you, Javier, for the kind introduction. And hello, SESA. What a privilege to be back in San Juan, joining you all in person.
A month ago, President Biden asked me to lead the Puerto Rico Grid Modernization and Recovery Team.
This is not another layer of bureaucracy. This is to cut through bureaucracy. To coordinate a cross-government effort that will help Puerto Rico finally overcome the challenges that have plagued the energy infrastructure here for far too long.
The President is demanding results, and so are you.
For far too long, Puerto Ricans have borne the burden of an unreliable electrical grid.
For far too long, Puerto Ricans have suffered because of needless obstacles to needed investments and interminable delays to essential improvements.
For far too long, you have seen plans without action to follow, heard promises that ultimately ring hollow.
And the consequences are incalculable.
Two weeks ago, I made my first visit here. I came to meet with Governor Pierluisi, of course, along with senior officials across every agency involved in recovery, reconstruction, and modernization of the grid—to hear why, five years after Hurricane Maria, there’s roughly $12 billion in authorized federal funding still unspent, and why a Category 1 storm caused so much damage.
And I wanted to hear firsthand from community leaders about the impacts of this broken system.
The healthcare providers who couldn’t administer dialysis while the power was out. The small grocery store owners who could only sell dry and canned goods amid a backup fuel shortage. The elderly residents stuck for days without food, because they couldn’t get to the ground floor of their building without a functioning elevator.
Needless pain. Needless suffering. Needless death.
Each story left me thinking: This is not acceptable.
In the 21st century, with the technology we’ve created, and the resources we have, reliable access to affordable electricity is akin to a basic right.
And yet, communities across the island have had to live in the dark for months on end—and live with electricity rates over twice the U.S. average when the lights are on.
This is not acceptable.
Through all of this, the more than three million Americans who call Puerto Rico home have proven their incredible resilience—something that, frankly, you never should have had to prove.
You deserve an energy system that can match that resilience.
It’s my responsibility, as Secretary of Energy, to make sure you get it. And I do not take that responsibility lightly.
We’re here to work with Puerto Rico. To help ensure the island realizes the vision it already has for its energy system: reaching 100% renewable energy by 2050.
That goal will put Puerto Rico on course to create real opportunity from the wake of disaster.
Because a future powered by renewables is one that can offer more energy security and more reliability—all while leaving households with cheaper bills to pay.
That’s why President Biden wants all of the United States transitioning to clean energy as quickly as possible, and why the Biden-Harris administration has secured the biggest federal investment in clean energy in history.
We’re accelerating the development and deployment of clean energy across the United States, with huge incentives to grow our own clean energy industries—solar and storage and other renewables certainly among them.
We want to advance these technologies. Lower their costs. Build them in the United States. And scale deployment—all over the world.
This is a future that Puerto Rico will benefit from.
We know this—because in the immediate aftermath of Fiona, as so many waited for grid repairs, communities that had invested in renewables were able to get power right away.
Communities like Casa Pueblo and Castañer in Adjuntas, where local businesses and government buildings had deployed solar microgrids with battery backups, giving residents the power they needed to charge their devices, keep food from spoiling, and administer crucial medical services.
I’m proud to say that the Department of Energy was able to play a role in launching both of those microgrid systems.
But we aren’t satisfied with just those efforts. How could we be?
When only some three percent of Puerto Ricans have a renewable battery system, when thousands of people were still without power for weeks after Fiona made landfall, helping two communities deploy microgrids isn’t a success story unless we can make the model scale.
And with PR100, we are going to make that happen.
Since February, the Department of Energy has—with contributions from six of our National Labs—been analyzing different ways to meet Puerto Rico’s 100% renewable energy goal.
This has been a grassroots-informed effort.
We have built a community of nearly 100 expert advisors who meet monthly to make sure the information we are collecting is built on local knowledge, needs, and priorities.
We have produced the most comprehensive renewable energy datasets on Puerto Rico, including data on rooftop solar and potential for offshore wind.
And in partnership with PREPA and LUMA, we have developed the most sophisticated models of Puerto Rico’s grid to date—which will allow us to project the impacts of the transition to renewables on grid performance, resilience, energy justice, and electricity rates.
I know that some of you here today have contributed to this effort—and I thank you for that.
And I can tell you that we will be announcing our preliminary results early next month, which lays out three feasible pathways to a Puerto Rico powered by 100% renewable energy by 2050—from modernizing the grid and integrating more renewables, to deploying far more solar and battery-powered systems to those in more remote parts of the island, on individual rooftops and through community microgrids.
Of course, the completion of PR100 will only mark the beginning of our work.
Because, once we see how you can reach your 100% renewable goal, our next task is getting there faster, while bringing the most needy along in this transition.
The rules and regulations from the Federal government and Puerto Rico sides need to be streamlined. To say the least.
Now, let me say that there are wonderful public servants administering these rules—many of whom themselves are frustrated with the pace.
But the system they are operating under must be recalibrated to get the results for the people of Puerto Rico much faster.
So, we’re going to work with our federal partners to overcome the substantial process issues that have held up the flow of investments.
We’re going to work with our partners in the government of Puerto Rico and the private sector to do the same.
And we’re going to make sure the people of Puerto Rico feel heard through these efforts.
At the same time, we want to make sure the Puerto Rican government can take advantage of the full suite of new investment opportunities for grid resilience, smart technologies, and more available through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act. And we want to partner on impactful and effective proposals for these upgrades.
We have also developed tools like PV Watts and the System Advisor Model, which our National Labs created to help Puerto Rico model solar deployment and better understand where, and how, solar systems make sense. These tools will help you calculate the costs of new solar deployment, and project energy output.
We can finance large-scale clean energy deployment projects through our Loan Programs Office, which has tens of billions of dollars in loan authority ready to go towards getting more clean energy capacity online.
And we can award money at the community level from our program offices. In fact, I’m proud to announce that this week, our Solar Energy Technologies Office is investing nearly $4.5 million in power system restoration projects in Puerto Rico, including one focused on improving Castañer’s microgrid—so that Castañer can get the lights back on even faster when the next storm rolls through.
My team has a booth here at this summit, and they would be happy to tell you more about what DOE, specifically, can bring to the table. And to get input from you.
But our goal throughout can’t just be quickly getting resources out the door.
We have to direct those resources to the right places, and into the right projects, so we can make the biggest impacts.
And by that, I mean we have to lift up Puerto Rico’s most vulnerable residents, making sure the investments pouring in to low- and middle-income communities first and foremost, and then work their way up.
Because we have a responsibility to those in need, and we cannot allow the next hurricane to leave elderly residents starving for days on end.
Fortunately, we had a head start on this.
One of our National Labs had already undertaken a study to identify the “last mile” communities that suffered the longest power outages after Hurricane Maria. They issued a report in August.
And their findings are now guiding our work with the Puerto Rico Department of Housing to shape the Electrical Power Reliability and Resilience Program—which is supported by a $1.3 billion investment from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Beyond the resources, we are bringing a sense of urgency and a clarity of purpose to these efforts.
So if—and, I hope, when—Puerto Rico decides to act on the analysis in PR100, we are eager to support those actions.
We are eager to make this a true partnership between governments, with both sides working together, pushing together, towards a shared objective: not just recovery, but revitalization.
And so we are hoping that the Puerto Rican government will match our sense of urgency and clarity of purpose, embrace what the science tells us, and move quickly to implement the solutions we all want to see.
I’ve made that clear to Governor Pierluisi, as has President Biden. I’ve emphasized it in my conversations with each agency involved in the energy sector.
And all of you can help bring that point home.
There’s no question that if we’re going to make PR100 a reality, we’ll need the members of the Solar and Energy Storage Association of Puerto Rico stepping up to deploy, deploy, deploy.
And our partners need to know that you are ready for the challenge.
So I’m asking you three things.
First, to quadruple down on your investments here in Puerto Rico—because we cannot solve these problems through government alone.
Every project that you kick off gets Puerto Rico that much closer to that future of 100% renewable power, and that much better prepared for the next storm.
Second, to come talk to us about big-thinking proposals that could take off with federal funding.
And third—advocate for commitment to the pathways in PR100.
There is a future out there for Puerto Rico, powered by a grid that’s been transformed to operate on renewable resources, and with innovative solutions like virtual power plants, microgrids, and advanced grid controls.
A future that can endure the challenges of climate change, where the infrastructure is resilient enough to protect its people, and where the people have all that they need to thrive.
It’s the honor and privilege of my lifetime to work alongside you as you reach that future.