Critical Facilities Pioneer New Model for Boosting Energy Resilience in Puerto Rico

The Community Energy Resilience Initiative (CERI), a collaboration between Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico, RMI, and the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet (GEAPP), with support from Enel North America, presents a new model for scaling equitable access to resilient , renewable energy.

Photo credit: RMI

Arecibo, Puerto Rico — June 9, 2022.

Today, the Puerto Rico Community Energy Resilience Initiative (CERI) celebrates the first three microgrid solar and storage systems, a part of a new model for local energy resilience. The grant and loan blended finance model, which is the first of its kind in the Caribbean, unlocks access to clean, affordable energy in low- to middle-income communities, improving energy resilience at critical facilities, and enabling them to stay operational and service their town during times of crisis. The CERI team plans to scale to approximately 350 critical facilities in Puerto Rico with the goal of unlocking the power of blended finance to drive equitable energy resilience in other countries, states, and cities globally.

Energy resilience is critical in the region as hurricanes continue to intensify and increase in frequency, bringing with them massive devastation including power blackouts. Local energy systems allow for the continuity of essential services, including healthcare, education, food, and transportation, during main grid outages.

CERI’s approach has been piloted with three critical facilities in Arecibo, Patillas, and Utuado. In collaboration with the CERI team, each facility was able to design and will install a community-owned solar-plus-storage microgrid system tailored to meet their energy needs.

“Since Hurricane María in 2017, service interruptions are common, jeopardize community access to essential services such as healthcare, and affect economic development. The CERI model allows for Puerto Rican communities to have faith in their continuous access to energy and take advantage of cost savings,” said David Haddock, VP of administration and programs of Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico (FCPR).

Photo credit: RMI

The three pilot facilities were selected after a merit-based process that focused on their role in the community and services provided during outages.

Instituto Pre Vocational E Industrial (IPVI) serves nearly 2,000 students and community members a year, offering educational and social services to the elderly, homeless, and women and children. IPVI served as a key recovery point in Arecibo after Hurricane María, ensuring much needed aid was distributed to the community. “Having continuous energy will mean our equipment can keep running, preserve food, and we can keep crucial services available for the communities we serve, many of whom depend on us for their livelihoods,” said Nilsa López, founder and CEO of IPVI.

Valentín Service Station, located in Mameyes, Utuado, the only gas station and mini supermarket in the area, provides services to the five communities that are far from urban centers. “Ours is the only business of its kind in this area. This is where local people get fuel to get to work, and food for their families. Our presence and ability to function, especially during times of crisis, is incredibly important.” said Francisco Valentín, owner of Valentín Service Station.

Jomari Pharmacy is a community drug store located in Patillas, providing computer and printing services in addition to selling, delivering, and consulting on medication. “A specific solar panel system was designed for Farmacia Jomari to enable us to function if another natural disaster happens. In any emergency, Farmacia Jomari will be able to continue to serve the community,” said Marissa Carrasquillo, owner of Jomari Pharmacy.

This model simultaneously addresses another key issue affecting Puerto Rico and the region: dramatic energy price increases. CERI uses an innovative, scalable blended finance model accessible to low- and middle-income businesses and nonprofits, in combination with technical assistance and community engagement. The IPVI project will be financed through a combination of local grants and a large donation from clean energy leader Enel North America. “With IPVI, this is not only an opportunity to strengthen the Arecibo community through energy resilience but also to bring further economic and technical skills development,” says Jesse Puckett, Enel director of sustainability projects and community affairs. “As part of IPVI’s workforce development efforts, Enel is excited to support renewable energy vocational training for the local community.”

The participating financial institutions for the three pilot critical facilities are Banco Popular and CooPACA.

“As we reimagine Puerto Rico’s fragile energy system, it is crucial to ensure that communities particularly vulnerable to power outages have reliable, affordable, and clean energy,” said Michael Liebman, manager with RMI’s Islands Energy Program. “This blended finance model in Puerto Rico was created and executed not only to address critical barriers to scaling resilient, carbon-free energy access, but also to ensure that facilities that currently pay over double the US average price of electricity see significant savings from day one.”

“Working together with Puerto Rican communities to identify and break down existing financial and knowledge barriers, the CERI model is paving the way to equitably scale the benefits of local energy resilience in Puerto Rico and in vulnerable communities worldwide,” said Clare Boland Ross, chief strategy and program impact officer for the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet. “As climate change makes severe weather events more common, improving inclusive access to reliable, renewable energy in under-served communities is even more essential for energy security and community resilience.”

The CERI team plans to expand to a demonstration portfolio of 20–40 projects, done in coordination with local financial institutions, to further develop this model and gain the efficiency needed to equitably scale the benefits of energy resilience more broadly. CERI is seeking partners to join the effort and provide support.

For those interested in supporting or collaborating with CERI, please email CERI@rmi.org.

Courtesy of RMI.


 


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