President Biden has asked Congress to authorize $3 billion for low-income households in Puerto Rico to purchase solar energy and battery storage systems to improve grid resilience during blackouts and outages resulting from natural disasters.
The request for emergency supplemental funding is part of an omnibus spending package needed to fund the federal government after Dec. 16.
“Equipping the most vulnerable households with rooftop solar could quite literally save lives. These families deserve the same access to energy security as the people who are already buying solar panels and batteries in droves,” House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., said in a statement.
“I thank the Biden administration for taking this important step and encourage my colleagues in Congress to finish the job by putting it into law,” Grijalva said.
Grijalva in October led a group of Democrats in the U.S. House calling for Congress to allocate $5 billion to help struggling Puerto Ricans install residential energy systems. Consumer advocates and local businesses and churches supported that call, and some say the $3 billion Biden requested is insufficient.
The request “is a step in the right direction,” Ruth Santiago, Earthjustice board member and White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council member, said in a statement.
“Much more is needed,” said Laura Esquivel, Hispanic Federation vice president for federal policy. “Creating a resilient, decentralized energy system in Puerto Rico is not just about reaching climate goals — it is literally a matter of life and death.”
Puerto Rico’s power system has been devastated by natural disasters in recent years, including Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, multiple earthquakes in 2020 and Hurricane Fiona in September.
Biden visited Puerto Rico and pledged to help rebuild the island’s power grid. “I’m ready to deploy and expedite more resources from the Department of Energy and other federal agencies … to help transform the entire system,” he said.
The $3 billion would be provided through the Department of Energy’s Grid Deployment Office. Included is $35 million for technical assistance to other agencies, local entities and communities throughout Puerto Rico “to assist with energy recovery and grid modernization activities; and salaries and travel expenses for dedicated DOE staff for Puerto Rico,” according to the request.