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Mar 13, 2024

Local Leaders Point the Way to a Clean Energy Future in Puerto Rico Communities

Resilience Hubs will provide the most vulnerable communities electricity during extreme weather events and other grid-related disasters.

By: Mariana García Benítez

Neighborhood in Puerto Rico

Leer en español

In recent months, our team has engaged in intensive and fruitful discussions with several communities in Puerto Rico which share a common goal: improving energy reliability in the wake of natural disasters.

IREC is now working with community leaders and the University of Puerto Rico—Mayagüez to create Puerto Rico Resilience Hubs, new clean energy installations designed to meet specific local priorities. These will be supported through an award of nearly $1 million from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Economic Impact and Diversity.

The Resilience Hubs will provide seven to 10 of Puerto Rico’s most vulnerable communities with access to electricity during, before, or after an extreme weather event or other grid-related disasters. These communities are located outside of major population centers and are at high risk of interruptions to the power grid. Despite the many challenges they face, the communities are eager to work on clean energy solutions that will bring energy justice and resilience to local residents and businesses.

To date, we have established core project teams that include representatives from each community. For the first two phases of the project, participating communities are Villa Esperanza, Toa Alta; Guayabota, Yabucoa; El Cerro, Naranjito; Duey, San Germán; and Calle Abajo, Lajas. More communities will be included in the coming months.

IREC Program Manager Melanie Quiñones (center) in Villa Esperanza, Toa Alta
IREC Program Manager Melanie Quiñones (center) in Villa Esperanza, Toa Alta

This project aims to equip public community centers with solar energy, battery storage, and other distributed energy resources (DERs). In each community, a solar-plus-storage system will provide reliable energy and power critical services when the electric grid is down. This work will build on IREC’s previous engagements with local partners to enable clean energy projects, such as a solar energy microgrid in Castañer.  

Ongoing meetings with the five communities have been a great opportunity for IREC to encourage local leaders to get involved in renewable energy issues. For most of these communities, it is the first time they have engaged in the development of a solar renewable energy system. This public process helps each community build a sense of ownership in the project, which will result in greater stewardship over time. 

Once this community planning process is complete, we will develop requests for proposals (RFPs) to identify local contractors to install the systems. The distributed energy systems will support each community’s ability to meet urgent needs in emergency situations. This could include electricity for food storage, cooking devices, or medical equipment, among other examples.

El Cerro, Naranjito
El Cerro, Naranjito

In addition to meeting energy needs, these resilience centers will educate citizens about renewable energy equipment and prepare them to take charge of its use and maintenance. In a changing world where renewable energy generation is expanding worldwide, it is important that these five communities can engage in this type of structural change. On a larger scale, these local solutions will support Puerto Rico’s ambitious legal requirement to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2050.

IREC is honored to work with these communities to help advance sustainable energy use throughout Puerto Rico. We are grateful to the DOE Office of Economic Impact and Diversity, the University of Puerto Rico, and other local partners for supporting our vision of a 100% clean energy future that is reliable, resilient, and equitable.

Calle Abajo, Lajas
Calle Abajo, Lajas
IREC Program Manager Mariana García Benítez (at left) in Guayabota, Yabucoa
IREC Program Manager Mariana García Benítez (at left) in Guayabota, Yabucoa

This article originally appeared in the IREC blog and is republished with permission.

Mariana García Benítez
IREC Program Manager

Mariana García Benítez was born and raised in Guayama, Puerto Rico. She has a Master’s Degree in Latin American Literature from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and is finishing a Master’s Degree in Government and Public Policy from the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico. She has served as the project manager for Energy Justice for Puerto Rico, a non-profit focused on addressing Puerto Rico’s need for resilient and reliable electricity. Mariana also served as the director and manager of the Energy Justice Alliance—a multisector group composed of a dozen entities and associations that wish to accelerate the objectives of Puerto Rico’s Law 17 of 2019, which established that Puerto Rico’s energy needs will be generated 100% from renewable sources by 2050.

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