It’s been three years since Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico. In the meantime, the power grid has been stabilized and most of the island has electricity. Now, in the middle of the hurricane season, the federal government has announced that the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) intends to award two of its largest grants ever for infrastructure projects on the island. Combined, Puerto Rico is estimated to receive nearly $13 billion, funds that include a federal share of $11.6 billion for the projects.
Renewable power has played an important role in Puerto Rico’s comeback, and its reliability and resilience in the face of climate events was proved in early January. When earthquakes shook the island—the power went off again, but not everywhere. A number of schools have been upgraded with solar-plus-storage microgrids. Moreover, in 2018, the Puerto Rican government committed the island to a 100 percent renewable energy grid by 2050.
The recently announced FEMA grants are meant to help rebuild Puerto Rico’s electrical grid system and drive the recovery of the local education system, marking the largest obligations of funding ever awarded. The grants exceed the total Public Assistance funding in any single federally declared disaster other than Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.
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Of the $11.6 billion federal funding, $9.6 billion is destined for the Puerto Rico Electrical Power Authority to repair and replace thousands of miles of transmission and distribution lines, electrical substations, power generation systems, office buildings and make other grid improvements. Since Puerto Rico is a singular case as there’s no precedent, no other electrical grid has been destroyed completely by a natural event, there are questions about when the funds will be made available and how will these be used.
The remaining $2 billion will go to the Puerto Rico Department of Education and will focus on restoring school buildings and educational facilities across the island.