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Puerto Rico expects full power in May as some turn to solar

By
Danielle Haynes
Corps Quality Assurance Specialist Amy Tillery observes as a contracted crew from Mas-Tec lay transmission lines Christmas morning. Photo by Gerald Rogers/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Corps Quality Assurance Specialist Amy Tillery observes as a contracted crew from Mas-Tec lay transmission lines Christmas morning. Photo by Gerald Rogers/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Jan. 5 (UPI) -- It could be another four months before power is fully restored in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, leaving some residents of the island to turn to solar power alternatives.

Patty Coffey, the deputy district engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers, told The Tennessean full power is expected by the end of May. This expected deadline is close to the start of the 2018 hurricane season.

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"We still believe we'll have 95 percent of power restored by end of February, early March," she said.

Coffey said full restoration in Puerto Rico has been delayed by resources stretched thin by needs in Florida and Texas, devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Harvey respectively. She said officials in Puerto Rico expect to get the supplies they need by the end of January.

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"We believe we're about to get on top of the wave with materials," she said.

The wait for power has caused some Puerto Ricans to consider investing in alternative forms of energy. Alex Uriarte, CEO of New Energy, a company that sells and installs battery systems for solar panels, said his company has seen an increase in sales since the storm.

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Before Maria, New Energy sold about five batteries per month. It sold 200 in October.

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"Before Maria, nobody wanted to buy storage because it was too expensive," Uriarte told Public Radio International. "And now everybody wants to buy storage. It's not an issue now of saving money, it's just an issue of having electricity."

Rosa López and José Quiñones already had solar panels on their rental home before they lost power. But they were connected to the power grid, rendering them useless. They spent nearly $10,000 on a Tesla Powerwall battery system in order to make use of their solar panels. Without it, they said they spent about $400 per week on fuel for their generator.

Uriarte said he's gotten investors for a solar microgrid to provide power for about 3,000 homes.

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"We're trying to be the first one to do a big microgrid here. We will become like a small utility," he said.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz said she hopes solar power could help transform the city's electric infrastructure.

"This could be a wonderful showcase for solar energy for the rest of the world," she said, calling for Puerto Rico's debt to be forgiven so the island can invest in solar systems.

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Sunnova Energy Corporation, a residential solar service provider, called on Congress to give more assistance to power restoration efforts in the territory. The company sent a letter to members of Congress on Thursday asking lawmakers to modify the Investment Tax Credit into a cash grant for disaster-hit territories.

"This would spur the development and construction of resilient, renewable energy options for businesses and residents in Puerto Rico and the [U.S. Virgin Islands]," CEO William J. Berger said. "As Congress continues its work on the disaster supplemental, it is imperative that they remember that Puerto Rico's energy recovery strategies need to be reliable, flexible, affordable and resilient-and utilize the energy sources that are most impactful for the island."

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