President Joe Biden has tasked Energy Secretary Jenniffer Granholm with creating a team dedicated to accelerating the rebuilding of the power grid, whose crisis has once again become evident after Hurricane Fiona, which occurred on September 18.
Before leaving the White House on his way to Puerto Rico, President Biden said Monday that he was going to have meetings around reconstruction because the island’s residents “They have not been treated very well”, and that he would announce a new initiative to streamline the process to rebuild the power grid.
In his message at the port of Ponce, Biden said that Secretary Granholm “is going to launch the Puerto Rican electric grid modernization team,” which will oversee “all federal resources, technical assistance, and additional support for Puerto Rico.” ”.
“We will make sure they get every dollar promised. I am determined to help Puerto Rico build faster than in the past and stronger and better prepared for the future.”he said during the speech he gave at the Las Américas port in Ponce.
Biden stated that we must “Move quickly towards the transformation of the entire (electrical) system of Puerto Rico, for the Puerto Rican people to obtain clean, reliable energy at affordable prices”.
President Biden’s expressions take place after Hurricane Fiona, category 1, generated a new general blackout in Puerto Rico and 15 days later it kept, according to LUMA Energy, about 6% of the population without electricity, including numerous communities in Ponce and other southern towns.
Five years after Hurricane Maria and two years after the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) authorized the allocation of $9.5 billion to rebuild the network, only projects valued at $183 million had been committed until a few weeks ago.
Seeking to redirect the process, Biden said that Granholm will require an additional federal effort to the Puerto Rico 100 plan, aimed at creating the roadmap towards the reconstruction of the network and achieving 100% renewable energy production by the year 2050. .
“We talked about additional measures that the federal government can take to help us in the transformation of our electrical system”acknowledged Governor Pedro Pierluisi, who was with the White House tenant throughout the visit, which lasted three hours and 21 minutes.
Democratic congresswoman Nydia Velázquez – whom President Biden called to the fore at the end of his message to highlight her work and describe her as a “one of the best congresswomen”– considered that the president seems to want to form a special working group focused “on execution, to speed up the reconstruction” of the network.
Last February, the governments of the United States and Puerto Rico signed a memorandum of understanding that seeks to establish the roadmap for the use of the nearly $11.5 billion available to rebuild the electrical network – the $9.5 billion from FEMA plus $1.932 billion from the Department of Federal Housing – in initiatives that allow achieving 100% energy production through renewable sources by 2050 on the island.
The agreement includes the departments of Energy, Housing and Homeland Security, the latter the umbrella under which FEMA operates.
The crisis in the electrical system is clear evidence of the slow pace of reconstruction in Puerto Rico. But the problem is general. Until a few weeks ago, of the $74.6 billion assigned to the island for its reconstruction after Hurricane Maria, only 35% had been disbursed and, of the $28 billion from FEMA for permanent work, disbursements were around $200 million.
President Biden arrived in Puerto Rico on Monday at 2:00 pm Before arriving, in addition to saying that Puerto Rico had not been treated very well, he announced an allocation for the island of more than $60 million from the infrastructure investment lawwhich will seek to strengthen dikes, flood walls and create a new flood warning system.
President Biden had only two official activities on the island. An event in the Port of the Americas in Ponce, in which he received a brief briefing on the state of Puerto Rico’s recovery after Hurricane Fiona and offered a message, and a meeting with families affected by Hurricane Fiona and non-profit organizations. government in a school of the Sor Isolina Ferré Centers.
He would not have visited any specific community. And she did not leave Ponce.
The briefing, behind the containers surrounding the podium from which he spoke, was very brief and was led by Governor Pierluisi, who gave Biden an update on the situation on the island two weeks after a hurricane hit it has caused at least 25 deaths, still keeps about 6% of the population without power, according to LUMA Energy, and caused several billion dollars in losses, including from the power grid, agriculture and roads.
Surrounding Biden at the time were US First Lady Jill Biden; FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, who also has her hands full in Florida, where the president will go on Wednesday; the executive director of the Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience of Puerto Rico (COR 3), Manuel Laboy, and other FEMA representatives, including José Baquero.
Pierluisi then offered the first message of the event at Puerto Las Américas, in which he asked President Biden to extend for another 180 days, in addition to the 30 already approved, 100% federal funding for emergency tasks related to the hurricane. Fiona, which have initially included the restoration of electricity and water services, the removal of debris, provision of food and shelter.
He also requested that all projects related to Hurricane Fiona be incorporated “in a cohesive and strategic manner” into the reconstruction process with the funds granted after the catastrophe caused by Hurricane Maria five years ago. But, in turn, he requested that the reconstruction of the highways and bridges be integrated into the reconstruction projects that FEMA authorizes and be modernized when repaired.
Speaking after Pierluisi, Biden -who was introduced by Maritzaida Pacheco Cosme, from the Sor Isolina Ferré Centers-, stated that “We are confident that we will be able to do everything that (the governor) has asked.”
With power lines in front of the podium and power generators at his side, Biden said he will seek to ensure that when a next hurricane approaches the island, “Puerto Rico is ready.”
Governor Pierluisi, however, sought to give a positive message about the recovery process, highlighting, like Biden, that around 94% of energy and 97% of water service have been restored, and claiming that Puerto Rico, from Faced with its full recovery and reconstruction, it is treated equally to the states.
Pierluisi considered that President Biden, by indicating that Puerto Rico has not been treated very well, was referring to the legacy of the Donald Trump administration, which stopped and imposed restrictions on the disbursement of federal funds, which this White House has sought to eliminate. “We’ve talked about it,” he said, praising the support of the Biden administration.
Last week, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Homeland Security published a report on FEMA’s response to Hurricane Maria, in which it maintains that the disaster management program in Puerto Rico did not require the necessary documentation , lacked sufficient documents or support for the distribution of $65 million to eight nonprofit organizations.
Congresswoman Velázquez, for her part, maintained that the task of the reconstruction process is focused on improving the technical training of the governments of Puerto Rico and reducing federal bureaucracy. But she ruled out that the answer to the slow pace of the reconstruction process will be more colonialism.
In this sense, he maintained that a fundamental responsibility of the Department of Energy is to press for the reconstruction of the electrical system to be based on renewable energy sources, microgrids and decentralization.
The resident commissioner in Washington, Jenniffer González, who was in the public at the event in Puerto Las Américas and approached the podium when Biden called Velázquez, considered that the president has recognized that the federal bureaucracy must be uncovered. And she said that technical training must be improved and funds must be “flow to the municipalities”.
“Aid must be provided to municipalities,” said the president of the Senate and the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), José Luis Dalmau, who was at the event in the port of Las Américas, as was the president of the House of Representatives. , Rafael “Tatito” Hernández Montañez; the president of the Association of Mayors and mayor of Villalba, Luis Javier Hernández, and legislators from the New Progressive Party (PNP), such as the alternate spokesman for the cameral minority, Gabriel Rodríguez Aguiló.
In an open letter to President Biden, in the Ponceño weekly La Perla del Sur, the “We Want Sol” coalition stated that, “in the approval and disbursement of funds, FEMA must prioritize distributed renewable energy projects, such as solar systems on roofs with batteries in the residences, businesses and institutions of Puerto Rico, starting with the poorest and most marginalized communities.”
That was a claim that Biden also heard, according to Governor Pierluisi, at the meeting with non-governmental organizations at the Sor Isolina Ferré Centers school, on the beach in Ponce.
“Some claimed that they want to see greater emphasis on the reconstruction of the electrical system to encourage solar energy throughout Puerto Rico, the roofs of the houses of the businesses, and he was receptive”Governor Pierluisi said.
The representative of the subscribers in the Governing Board of the Electric Power Authority (PREPA), Tomás Torres Placa, who was invited to the event at Puerto Las Américas, said that his presence there was “a clear message that President Biden wants a diversity of opinion.” “If I could have talked to him, I would have told him that the sea behind him could be the source of fuel to produce green hydrogen at competitive prices”said Torres Placa.
On the outskirts of the port, statehood activists asked Biden to address the status issue and promote statehood for Puerto Rico.
“It’s time for us to stop being a colony,” said attorney Reina Davis, one of the first to arrive at the rally with a slogan that read, among other things, “statehood now.”
Although he has endorsed statehood on a personal level, Biden, as a candidate, has promised to push for a binding status process for the federal government with representation from all parties, but he has not taken any concrete action beyond encouraging the effort that tried to advance statehood. House Democratic leadership that has been stalled and it was always known that it was not going to become law.
In this story, Gloria Ruiz Kuilan, Alex Figueroa Cancel and Osmán Pérez Méndez collaborated.