Progress on Puerto Rico’s IRP Plan: What it Means to the Grid and Microgrids

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The Environmental Defense Fund’s Daniel Whittle and Agustin Carbó report the latest on the Puerto Rico IRP proceeding, a complex and lengthy regulatory undertaking expected to influence microgrid and renewable energy development on the island.

Puerto Rico IRP

Daniel Whittle, EDF

Puerto Rico’s electric grid is extremely fragile and in need of repair. The natural disasters that have hit the island over the last two years have compounded these issues, highlighting the need for a modern, more resilient electric grid. Distributed energy systems, such as community-scale microgrids, have shown to be a promising solution to Puerto Rico’s electricity resilience and reliability.

Microgrids are mini-energy service stations that can maximize locally-generated renewable energy, such as wind and solar power, and are backed by battery storage and intelligent software. They can be designed to connect to the larger electric grid to provide cleaner, more reliable energy everyday, and separate from the grid during emergencies to keep the lights on in the parts of the island that need it most.

The integrated resource plan (IRP) is an opportunity for Puerto Rico to incorporate modern electricity infrastructure, including microgrids that can reduce the island’s dependency on fossil fuels, and efficiently manage its energy resources over the long term.

The Puerto Rico IRP process

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) filed its IRP in June 2019. The document, which will ultimately provide a 20-year roadmap for managing the archipelago’s electricity resources, has been under review ever since. The plan needs to take into account forecasted electricity demand and analyze the viability of various power sources to ensure electricity is reliably distributed across the island.

Thus far, the IRP process has been long, complex, and has been delayed a number of times as the Energy Bureau found that PREPA’s revisions to the IRP have not met Puerto Rico’s commitment to sourcing 100% of its energy from renewable sources by 2050. The plan is being carefully analyzed by organizations, like Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), who see it as an opportunity to support Puerto Rico’s recovery after Hurricane Maria and as a catalyst for community-scale microgrids and other distributed energy systems that leverage energy efficiency and renewable energy resources. The deadline for intervenors to file their brief in the IRP proceeding is February 28, 2020.

  • June 2019 – PREPA Releases Revised IRP
    PREPA released the revised IRP document in June 2019. The IRP sectioned the island into eight mini grids and incorporated more renewable energy and battery storage. The plan also called for the import of liquefied natural gas and the development of several gas power plants.Relying on centralized and fossil-fuel based energy infrastructure doesn’t offer a long-term solution to Puerto Rico’s energy needs. Increasing fossil-fuel based infrastructure would undermine the island’s ability to meet the target of 100% renewable energy by 2050 and miss the opportunity to reduce costs, safeguard natural resources, and promote economic development.
  • January 2020 – Earthquakes damage the Costa Sur power plant
    A series of earthquakes hit the island earlier this year, displacing thousands of people from their homes and damaging the Costa Sur power plant, which is responsible for nearly 25% of the island’s electricity. PREPA estimates it could take over a year to repair the power plant.
  • February 2020 – formal IRP hearings commence
    The IRP public hearing began on February 3 and wrapped up on February 7. The topics discussed included Puerto Rico’s electricity infrastructure and the expectation that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will release funds to PREPA to help rebuild the electric grid. The hearing focused on PREPA’s arguments and assumptions used for the forecast the utility filed in its IRP. The Bureau asked PREPA to justify its assertion that delaying the deployment of renewable energy resources in favor of more fossil-fuel based infrastructure was the best course of action for Puerto Rico in the near-term. PREPA was pressed on its reluctance to formulate plans around renewable energy resources, and heeded criticism around the cost-effectiveness of its proposed mini-grid plan, which was designed to improve the larger grid’s resilience.
  • Public engagement hearings will continue until February 25
    The Puerto Rico Energy Bureau began holding public engagement hearings to get public input on the IRP on February 11 in San Juan. Additional hearings will take place in Humacao (Feb. 19), Arecibo (Feb. 13), Mayaguez (Feb. 22), and Ponce (Feb. 25).

It is important that PREPA outlines energy policies in its IRP that will benefit Puerto Rico’s residents and the environment, and start implementing them quickly. If not, the utility risks overspending and using taxpayer dollars to build unnecessary infrastructure that will fail to meet Puerto Rico’s energy needs efficiently, and impede the island from advancing toward its goal of sourcing 100% of its energy from renewable sources by 2050.

Environmental Defense Fund is developing an innovative project to demonstrate the feasibility of distributed energy resources, including microgrids that can reduce the island’s dependence on fossil fuels. These systems can be designed to connect to the larger grid to provide cleaner, more reliable energy every day, and can separate from the grid during emergencies to keep the lights on in parts of the island that need it most. For more information, visit www.edf.org/PuertoRico.

Daniel Whittle is the director of the Caribbean initiatives and Agustin Carbó is manager, microgrids at the Environmental Defense Fund.

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