The recent earthquakes that shook Puerto Rico have highlighted the continuing fragility of the island’s electric power grid, more than two years after Hurricane Maria. The 6.4-magnitude temblor that hit last week also highlighted the need for the island to decrease its dependence on fossil fuels, as much of the island was again left without power.
Now, a public-private initiative hopes to improve resiliency and promote the use of renewables in Puerto Rico.
The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), Solar Foundation and PathStone Corp. have launched a $4.5 million Puerto Rican Solar Business Accelerator, Workforce and Small Business Development Program to provide business assistance and workforce development for Puerto Rican solar and construction companies.
The project, with support from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), represents a joint, public-private effort to train and place workers in solar-plus-storage and construction. The EDA provided $3.8 million for the program, which meets three of the EDA’s investment priorities: recovery and resiliency, Workforce development and manufacturing, and the newly designated Opportunity Zones. The EDA investment is aimed at fostering job creation and attracting private investment to support development in economically distressed areas of the United States.
According to the Puerto Rico government’s public policy law on renewables, the island aims to derive 40 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2025. Currently, only 2 percent of the island’s energy is drawn from renewables such as solar and wind. This does not include generated electricity that does not go through the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s system.
“Since Hurricane Maria, we have worked in partnership with local installers to bring solar and storage to critical locations in Puerto Rico,” said Andrea Luecke, president and executive director at the Solar Foundation. “We are proud to lead this groundbreaking new program to help expand Puerto Rico’s solar industry and develop a highly qualified workforce.”
The multidisciplinary initiative aims to increase economic resiliency in Puerto Rico with training and technical assistance to help locally owned and operated businesses increase operating efficiencies and participate fully in post-Maria reconstruction efforts. It will also provide workforce and training to prepare unemployed workers and the existing labor force for jobs that support these efforts.
The program will focus on three areas of opportunity:
The Puerto Rican Solar Accelerator will work with Puerto Rican solar companies to improve financing, support a robust workforce pipeline, disseminate information on consumer protection and develop two solar and storage microgrid demonstration pilots.
Business Technical Assistance will focus on raising the capacity of locally owned and operated businesses to play a bigger role in rebuilding the Puerto Rico economy with a focus on resiliency and job creation.
Workforce Development will screen, train and place workers in full-time employment within industries that are primarily engaged in the production, sales and installation of solar energy productions and construction. NYSERDA is providing $30,000 in cost share for seven qualified instructors from the State University of New York and City University of New York (CUNY) to provide training over a 12-month period in Puerto Rico.
The islandwide effort in all 78 municipalities will operate out of PathStone’s Puerto Rico Central Office in Ponce, Regional Service Sites in Arecibo, Mayagüez, Naranjito, Bayamón, Juncos and Guayama, and will serve the residents of the islands of Vieques and Culebra. PathStone currently employs 45 people in Puerto Rico.
Since Maria, CUNY has deployed 500 Service Corps students to affected areas on the island, repairing hundreds of homes, restoring trails and planting fields for crop vegetables. “This new initiative—to help businesses and workers as the island continues to rebuild—is a natural continuation of that important work,” indicated CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos.