US to spend $440 million in post-storm solar effort

In an initiative that could signal a new approach to post-catastrophe recovery response, the US Department of Energy is launching talks with solar energy companies and NGOs in Puerto Rico on awards of up to $440 million for rooftop solar and battery storage systems.

Storms have wiped out the grid in recent years, the Energy Department said.

The awards will be the first tranche from a $1 billion fund included in legislation President Joe Biden signed in late 2022 to boost energy resilience for Puerto Rico’s most vulnerable households and communities and help the U.S. territory meet its goal of 100% renewable energy by 2050.

“Plain and simple, this investment will save lives, all while providing local, good-paying jobs and advancing Puerto Rico’s clean energy transition,” said Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, who has visited the island several times to talk about the fund and boosting the grid at town halls in cities and remote hamlets.

The Energy Department has begun talks with three companies, Generac Power Systems (GNRPS.UL), Sunnova Energy, and Sunrun, which may be awarded a total of $400 million to deploy residential solar and battery systems.

Nonprofits and cooperatives, including Barrio Electrico and the Environmental Defense Fund, may be awarded a total of $40 million.

Rooftop solar coupled with battery storage can increase independence from the centralized grid, while cutting emissions blamed for climate change.

Up to 4,600 people died in Puerto Rico after 2017’s Hurricane Maria, crushed the power grid, studies say. Among the worst hit communities were ones with elderly and low-income people. In some mountain towns, the power was out for 11 months.