This Local Cooperative is Advancing Solar Energy in Puerto Rico

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Recently, IREC was pleased to announce two new engagement partners that will recruit communities in their regions to join the SolSmart program. One of them is the Cooperativa de Energia La Margarita—AbeynoCoop, based in Salinas, Puerto Rico.

Solar power has been indispensable to Puerto Rico’s recovery ever since Hurricane Maria devastated the archipelago in 2017. The hurricane exposed Puerto Rico’s fragile electricity grid and caused the longest blackout in American history, with thousands of people losing their lives.

Today, power outages remain frequent and electricity costs are well above the national average, even with over 40% of the population living in poverty. Growing numbers of Puerto Rico residents are turning to solar power coupled with battery storage to secure a reliable and affordable electricity source.

The SolSmart program is ready to be a part of this transition. Already, five municipalities in Puerto Rico have achieved SolSmart designation by adopting national best practices that reduce barriers to solar energy use. In partnership with AbeynoCoop, we are excited to help even more Puerto Rico communities adopt solar energy solutions.

Wanda J. Ríos-Colorado leads AbeynoCoop from La Margarita, a neighborhood in the town of Salinas on the south coast of Puerto Rico. The neighborhood has experienced drastic flooding and power supply interruptions during Maria and other natural disasters. It is home to many elderly residents who suffer from health problems and are at risk when power outages cut off access to medical care.

Noting that renewable energy “is not a luxury, it is a necessity,” Ríos-Colorado helped the community organize with the goal to provide solar energy to as many vulnerable households as possible. To that end, the community launched an energy cooperative which was officially certified in 2022.

Electric cooperatives are part of a movement in Puerto Rico to provide communities with solar and battery storage independent from the central power grid. The cooperatives were authorized in a 2018 law with the goal to encourage communities to access renewable energy sources. All local participants are considered owners in the cooperative, which can generate, transmit, and distribute electricity.

In La Margarita, AbeynoCoop provides solar panels and installation in exchange for a small fee based on energy consumed. So far, the neighborhood has put up solar panels on a community center and started a pilot program to install solar on five homes. The eventual goal is to provide solar energy to at least 40% of their elderly and low-income residents.

In recognition of these efforts, the community received a monetary award for the first two phases of the U.S. Department of Energy Community Clean Energy Coalition Prize, and was also recognized by Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm during a visit in February. (You can watch this video from the community to learn more.)

“To have a resilient community we need to have a sustainable and decentralized electric energy service that is available to everyone at all times,” Ríos-Colorado said during Granholm’s visit.

As a SolSmart engagement partner, AbeynoCoop will recruit new communities to receive no-cost technical assistance and achieve SolSmart designation. SolSmart will help Puerto Rico municipalities adopt strategies that help further solar energy use at the local level. SolSmart has adopted a modified designation pathway for Puerto Rico communities to account for local procedures and regulations.

All communities in Puerto Rico and throughout the United States are eligible to receive technical assistance from SolSmart. Interested communities can contact us today.