Recent fire at the Monacillo plant in Río Piedras, which triggered a chain of blackouts in several municipalities, states Puerto Rico's challenge of overcoming its power grid´s frailty.
state of the electric grid aggravated by Hurricane Maria, gives the island with the opportunity to articulate and execute a strategy for the construction of a sustainable energy model.
This injection of federal funds allows to draw a new plan with a clear vision and execution, which includes renewable sources of electricity generation and stronger distribution systems.
Accountability and the wise use of money are essential. Well-documented strategies will be the basis of the proposals for the system modernization that will be presented to the federal government. As well, the two-year disbursement of $ 2 billion for the power grid and another $ 13 billion for healthcare and recovery programs, are tied to periodic plans and reports, among other conditions.
To be successful, this model needs the private sector as an ally to overcome the phase of repairing the electric generation and distribution network, which the island has been suffering even before Hurricane Maria. Governor Ricardo Rosselló´s administration has estimated in $18 billion the funds required to upgrade the electricity infrastructure, which shows the scope of the agenda.
There is not doubt that the local and foreign brigades have made their greatest effort, despite the stock shortage of the Electric Power Authority. They have also faced difficulty to access isolated rural sectors, elusive urban pockets and the labyrinthine configuration of the power grid. It is a system that produces most of the energy in the south while the largest consumption is in the north. And more than 2,500 miles of transmission lines run from one area to another.
A breaker explosion in Monacillos caused Sunday night blackouts from San Juan to Juncos leaving other units without service as well. Meanwhile, problems with a transmission line caused lack of power from Arecibo to Barceloneta. It is clear that the system is extremely vulnerable. These already non-surprising blackouts undermine family activity as well as businesses and industries.
Therefore, Puerto Ricos main goal is to ensure that the power grid can withstand tropical peculiarities, aggravated by climate change. In addition to the hurricane season, thunderstorms, floods and landslides pose as risks to the system.
The Disaster Recovery Act, that creates the response framework through which the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) operates, allocates the funds for repairs. The fact is that the system can not operating based on continous repairs. Federal assistance should be considered as an investment towards a reliable energy system. Additional federal funds and private funding sources should be the next steps. This must be clear in the master plan for the construction of a stronger system.
It is crucial that the government leadership draws long term strategic plans to attract the private sector as partners in this route towards Puerto Rico´s development. Strengthening the Energy Commission as an independent regulatory body is also a key component to implement the energy strategy.
Almost five months after the hurricane and previous to new federal disbursements, Puerto Rico reached the point to move towards sustainability, leaving behind that patch system that leaves us in the dark before the slightest problems and curbs our economic growth.
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