A message from NTREG’s Dan Lepinski to NTREG Members, Supporters, and Others.
Last September, Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico with 175 mph winds.. The storm demolished an already fragile power grid. Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (“PREPA”) filed for bankruptcy in July, 2017, and lacks the ability to repair the damage – especially in outlying areas. Residents in towns and rural areas away from the largest cities have been told it will take up to two years to restore utility power to their communities.
I thought this may be an exaggeration. It’s not. Three members of Engineers Without Borders flew to Puerto Rico and personally confirmed what we’d been hearing. IT COULD TAKE YEARS, NOT MONTHS.
Entire communities in Puerto Rico have asked for off-grid solar electricity systems to be installed on residents’ homes. A project to restore power to more than 400 homes in the first community of Utuado is officially underway. Systems aren’t being given away. Homeowners will buy their systems through a loan repayment program similar to a private-sector version of “PACE”, but without government involvement. If this goes well, the program will be expanded. As evidence of the need .. nearly 10,000 homeowners in several communities have now indicated their desire to participate in the project.
At nearly 21 cents per kilowatt-hour, residential electricity in Puerto Rico is expensive, second only to Hawaii. Amortized cost of off-grid solar electricity from these systems will be on par with what residents have been paying for utility bills. Subsequently, repayment fits within existing budgets.
As to my role …. I volunteered to design the systems, and assist in other ways. Organizers needed a Licensed Professional Engineer with experience in off-grid solar energy, and reached out to the US Dept of Energy and others for help.. One of them put the project organizers in touch with me. I agreed, and submitted designs in December. Those designs became reality last week when the first purchased orders were sent out for equipment. As for the “other ways” .. I’ll be going to Puerto Rico soon to teach the first group of up to 100 people how to install and support off-grid solar energy systems. The equipment ordered last week will arrive in time to be used for hands-on installation instruction and experience.
Long term: A funding source has come forward and offered substantial monetary backing, but not until they see proof of success of 10-20 systems. Some of the money required for this initial effort has been raised already.. Less than $30,000 is still needed to get the program started. A website has been created for this purpose (more on this in a moment).
In case you’re wondering .. 100% of the equipment being used in these systems is made in America. Everyone involved in the project at this point is an unpaid volunteer, including me. Installers will be paid a nominal wage per system. They live in Puerto Rico, and some have been out of work since the hurricane.
We have more than 900 people registered in our Yahoo Conversation Group. If everyone donated $35, the goal would be exceeded!
Please read more (below), and donate generously today! 100% of your donation is passed through to the project. No one is paid. No government agencies are involved. (Due to time constraints, the project is not established as a non-profit, so no tax deduction is possible. Sorry!)
Read about the genesis of this program in last week’s Boulder Colorado Weekly:
Dan Lepinski, P.E.
North Texas Renewable Energy Group