On March 28, 2023, Puerto Rican governor Pedro Pierluisi announced a plan to renew Puerto Rico’s power grid through solar energy initiatives (AP News 3). Weakly maintained by a private company and devastated by storms like Hurricane Maria, the power grid is responsible for providing electricity to 3.2 million people (AP News 3). Pierluisi has promised to increase renewable energy to the island’s residents from 3% to 40% by the end of 2025 (AP News 3). Yet the measures taken in the months since the speech have angered many Puerto Ricans.
Pierluisi proposed an increase in electricity bills to offset debt (AP News 2). This ignited fury in much of the population, which brought out hundreds of people to protest in San Juan on June 28, 2023 (AP News 2). Since 2015, Puerto Rico has been unable to pay a public debt of more than $70 billion (AP News 2). The territory officially filed for municipal bankruptcy in 2017 (AP News 2). Though the government reorganized the debt of its agencies, the government has not made changes to the company responsible for the territory’s electricity, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (NBC News). Many Puerto Ricans argue that public debt has been caused through mishandling and corruption and now the blunt of paying the debt lies on them. Residents already see electric bills almost twice as high as those in U.S. states, yet experience frequent outages and general poor service (AP News 2 & NBC News).
Other energy initiatives stir conflict amongst residents. Battery-powered solar systems are seen as a reliable energy alternative to the shared power grid. However, they are expensive for residents to install within their homes. Pierluisi pledged a voucher program with $100 million in federal funds to aid 30% of the costs to install (AP News 3). As it is targeted towards the middle class, 40% of the population who live below the poverty line are unable to see benefits (AP News 2).
Apart from the voucher program, the Puerto Rican administration ran into controversy regarding the installation of 18 renewable energy projects (AP News 1). Environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, sued Puerto Rico’s Energy Bureau over the project locations (AP News 1). The government planned each project to be installed on special agricultural reserves and specially protected rustic land, which is forbidden by local law (AP News 1). Environmentalists argued the installations would increase food security because they would take up fertile space for farming (AP News 1). The Energy Bureau should instead place their projects on areas such as roofs, parking lots, and contaminated sites (AP News 1). The lawsuit is still ongoing, with activists’ request to the judge to offer alternative places for the projects to be built on (AP News 1).