The Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) selected Maricao, Puerto Rico, to develop a solar + storage microgrid through the Puerto Rican Solar Business Accelerator (PRSBA). The microgrid will provide clean and affordable energy while enhancing local resilience to natural disasters.
As one of Puerto Rico’s smallest municipalities, Maricao competed with 12 other municipalities for the microgrid project, which includes approximately 75 kW of solar PV installations. Located in the town center, the project will benefit a variety of community organizations, such as health care providers, banks, and other businesses that serve a population of about 5,430, assembling a reliable and zero-emission energy system in an area that experiences daily power outages.
IREC will lead the support for all stages of the project, with engineering and technical support from the University of Puerto Rico—Mayagüez and in partnership with a local 501 (c) (3) nonprofit, the Monte Azul Foundation. Funded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration and co-led by IREC and Pathstone Corporation, Inc., the PRSBA is helping to transform Puerto Rico’s energy system through solar workforce development, expanded finance options, and technical assistance to solar businesses.
“We are particularly enthusiastic about working with Maricao to achieve energy resiliency for their business sector. In this project we can tie community development with energy justice and resiliency to provide Maricao, one of the most isolated municipalities in Puerto Rico, an equal opportunity for a dependable and affordable energy infrastructure. This is a project that does justice to the current population of Maricao and brings with it the possibility of economic development for future populations,” said Carlos Alberto Velázquez López, the Program Director for IREC in Puerto Rico.
Monte Azul applied for the project and coordinated community organizing efforts with the municipal government, small business owners, and residents. Monte Azul strives to promote a robust and equitable food system as well as energy justice in rural Puerto Rico through sustainable economic development. Monte Azul facilitates sustainable communities through its programs which include agricultural workforce training, decentralizing energy production through the development of solar microgrids, and promoting wide-scale renewable energy adoption through community outreach and events.
“This is a game changer for Maricao,” said Andrew Hermann, Executive Director of Monte Azul Foundation. “The town will benefit significantly from a sustainable energy source. It is a step in the right direction toward resilient energy and energy justice. The microgrid will increase the reliability of energy, which will enhance quality of life. The project will also reduce power outages and the cost of electricity for small business owners in town, creating a positive ripple effect in the local economy of Maricao.”
Maricao is an underserved, rural municipality of 5,430 people located in the southwest mountains of Puerto Rico, where 64.5% of people live below the federal poverty line. Historically a coffee growing community, Maricao has suffered from significant population loss due to a declining economy, lack of government incentives for agricultural jobs, and geographic isolation.
Maricao’s Mayor, Wilfredo “Juny” Ruiz Feliciano, expressed his excitement for the project and the positive impact it will have on the municipality. “The people of Maricao and I are very happy and excited that we have been selected to build the second photovoltaic electric microgrid in Puerto Rico through the PRSBA in collaboration with the Monte Azul Foundation. This is a simple and cost-effective way to reduce the electric power bill and to be resilient during future hurricanes that may pass through our region.”
The mayor added: “Being able to produce our own energy provides greater resilience to any event that affects the fragile electrical power system we currently have. With the coming cost increases and system instability, the microgrid is the alternative to the present and future.”
The new microgrid will build on other bold efforts to expand solar energy and local resilience in Maricao. Monte Azul recently announced a new initiative, Maricao Verde 2027, which aims to move Maricao’s energy production to 100% renewable sources by 2027 through a rapid expansion of the solar microgrid and promoting residential solar installation. Maricao is also working toward designation under SolSmart, a program led by IREC that helps local governments encourage solar energy growth.
Monte Azul plans a Solar Fair on Earth Day, April 22, 2022, to commemorate the announcement of the solar microgrid and create a space for community members to learn and design a solar panel system that fits their needs.
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