Los paneles solares de techo recargan la batería del hogar durante el día. (GFR Media)
Solar panels on a residence. (GFR Media)

Governor Pedro Pierluisi announced yesterday the creation of a program to install photovoltaic panels and water storage systems in homes affected by Hurricane María and in small and medium-sized businesses.

The initiative, the governor said at a press conference, will be possible through the allocation of $300 million in Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Program (CDBG-DR) funds and $20 million from the American Recovery Plan (ARPA).

According to the governor, it is through initiatives such as these, driven by federal reconstruction funds for our island, that “we aspire to provide security and uninterrupted electricity service to those residents eligible,” whose health requires medical equipment, as well as other families with different needs, including the lack of “such a precious resource like water.”

Pierluisi detailed that the $300 million will be for photovoltaic panels and water storage systems, particularly for families that have participated in the Repair, Reconstruction, or Relocation (R3) program. It is estimated that 12,000 families may receive the aid.

Puerto Rico Housing Secretary William Rodríguez anticipated that they will then seek to have more families eligible for the assistance to be provided under the Community Energy & Water Resilience Installations (CEWRI) program.

Rodríguez, who will manage the program, said that the intention is to install photovoltaic systems with batteries “for critical loads.”

He explained that these are 3-kilowatt direct current (kW DC) or 4.3 kW DC photovoltaic systems to be installed in eligible homes, which will allow some household appliances to operate. Meanwhile, the water storage system will provide households with the capacity to store water in case there is an interruption in drinking water services.

The Housing Secretary stressed that eligible participants will not have to call or apply for assistance: a case manager will contact them by phone or e-mail to guide them through the application process and help them fill out the forms since much of the information is already in the system because they are R3 program participants.

“Those people have already been pre-qualified. They are not going to be asked for a lot of additional information. We are not going to open a program for applications. We will directly contact those who have already qualified for house inspection, to make a subsequent installation of the photovoltaic panels and the cistern,” said the official.

Aid for businesses

The $20 million in ARPA funds will be used to assist small and medium-sized businesses under the Energy Assistance Program, which seeks to provide reserve and electricity backup to small and medium-sized businesses. Pierluisi estimated the initiative could help 1,000 businesses.

Energy Assistance will focus on three areas: providing alternatives to reduce energy costs, supporting businesses that serve the energy sector, and assisting the sectors that need it the most.

The governor urged every business “to apply for or participate in this project,” seeking to benefit the island´s economy in the medium and long term.

The program will operate under what Pierluisi called “an SME to SME model,” since it will prioritize that small and medium-sized businesses provide these services. The program guidelines will be published on October 11 on the Department of Economic Development and Commerce (DDEC) website and registration will begin on October 18.

This incentive totals $25,000 per business, and each application will be evaluated considering criteria such as the region where the business is located, the services it provides, the economic sector it represents, and the project’s savings.

Green Energy Trust Fund

Pierluisi also announced the appointments of the Board of Trustees of the Green Energy Trust, which will be funded with $400 million from the CDBG Grant Mitigation Program.

The Puerto Rico Energy Public Policy Act (Act 17-2019) included the creation of the Green Energy Trust, one of its goals is to financially support projects that provide access to green energy to residents in low- and middle-income communities. The governor appointed Doira Díaz, Roy Torbert, Patrick PJ Wilson, Juan Carlos Díaz, and Jorge Camacho as members of the Board of Trustees, which also include DDEC Secretary Manuel Cidre.

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