Acquired by the United States from Spain in 1898, Puerto Rico became ratified as a Commonwealth in 1952. If Puerto Ricans vote in the fall of 2020 to seek statehood Congress and the president would have to agree to end Puerto Rico’s current commonwealth arrangement. With a population of 3.2 million people, Puerto Rico has more people than 21 U.S. states and a territory of 3,425 square miles, making it slightly bigger than Connecticut. Located in the Carribean, Puerto Rico is made up of 143 small islands, islets, and cays with one main central island bearing its name. Mostly mountainous, except for the coastal lowlands and the karst region in the north, which consists of formations of rugged limestone like sinkholes, caves, cliffs, and haystack hills, Puerto Rico is decidedly a rainforest, getting more than 100 billion gallons a year of rainfall, and providing a home to many species found nowhere else on earth. Among the territory’s native fauna is its unofficial mascot, the coquí tree frog, a tiny creature that makes a distinctive high-pitched chirping noise heard throughout Puerto Rico.
Climate change has been especially harsh on Puerto Rico. As changes to the climate have exacerbated hurricanes, they have hit Puerto Rico extremely hard. Hurricane Maria, sweeping through Puerto Rico in September of 2017, brought as much rainfall in one day as the island usually sees in three months. It was the most devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico’s history, costing the island as much as $139 billion as it struggled to recover from all the damage.
Sea level rise is another imminent danger to Puerto Rico, with 85% of its population living within five miles of a coast. Puerto Rico’s seas are about half a foot higher since 1880 when records began, and the rate of the growth is only accelerating, with scientists projecting 22 inches by 2060. This trend has made ports, roads, and other infrastructure extremely vulnerable. Sea level rise combined with storm surges cause flooding, which has a direct effect on Puerto Rican daily life as well as on tourism (making up 8% of the island’s economy).
Climate change is also responsible for the collapse of the insect population in Puerto Rico’s rainforests, causing devastating effects to the island’s ecosystems. Insects are a vital food source for many of Puerto Rico’s creatures, including the coqui frog. As the creatures that eat insects die, their predators lose their food source as well, causing reverberations through the food chain. Insects are also vital to plant pollination, so loss of insects additionally harms the flora and fauna of Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico’s energy customers currently face high prices as they primarily import fossil fuels for power generation. When extreme weather like hurricanes impede the fuel supply, it leaves Puerto Ricans helpless without its own generating power. This makes it especially vital for Puerto Rico to switch over to renewables generated locally. But, the island is on its way. After Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico has been rebuilding its power grid to transition to clean resources, including the largest solar and energy storage buildout in the United States. In 2019, they adopted the Puerto Rico Public Policy Act, setting a goal of 100% renewable energy by 2050, with interim goals of 40% renewables by 2025 and 50% by 2040. In August 2020, the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau (PREB) moved forward in the direction of renewables, directing the procurement of at least 3.5 GW of solar and 1.36 GW of battery storage by 2025.
Even earlier, in 2013, the Puerto Rican government passed an executive order instructing their Energy Affairs Administration to develop a scientific study quantifying the amount of greenhouse gases generated in Puerto Rico within one year of its enactment. Based on this study, local government agencies would be able to develop an integrated and sustainable strategy aimed at reducing and removing a significant amount of these pollutants.
And earlier still, in 2010, Puerto Rico enacted a policy to introduce the use of a renewable energy credit system as a mechanism to stimulate the production of renewable energy within the territory. However, Puerto Rico has yet to develop an operational emission trading scheme to engage in the emissions trading market.
The Puerto Rican government is also trying its best to promote green tourism, even launching a Green Tourism mobile application, which promotes the areas protected by the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources.
As of 2019, Puerto Rico used petroleum to fuel 40% of the island’s total electricity generation, natural gas 39%, coal 18%, and renewables 2.3%. Of those renewables, solar and wind made up two-fifths each — Puerto Rico is home to both the largest solar photovoltaic facility and the largest wind farm in the Caribbean. Though Puerto Rico’s goal of 40% renewable energy seems far off, it’s worth mentioning that solar is growing extremely fast on the island, with their Electric Power Authority planning to add up to 1,800 megawatts of solar power and 920 megawatts of additional battery storage between 2019 and 2025. It has also signed a separate agreement to add 201 megawatts of solar, wind, and landfill gas-generated energy to the power grid.
Puerto Rico’s commercial sector consumes nearly half of the island’s electricity, and the residential sector consumes just above one-third. The industrial sector including agriculture accounts for slightly over one-eighth of power consumption, and the rest of the island’s power is used for public purposes like street lighting. Per capita, Puerto Rico’s electricity consumption is typically less than half of the average in the 50 states.
Puerto Rico is one of twenty five committed to the U.S. Climate Alliance, which is working to implement policies that advance the goals of the Paris Agreement.