Caguas citizen Rafael Rivera is one of the Sunnova barter who had no ability afterwards Blow María.
Although her solar panels auspiciously abiding Blow María’s winds, Madeline Batista couldn’t about-face on her lights, her refrigerator or added accessories that bare electricity. The photovoltaic system, installed at her Naguabo home by Sunnova, chock-full working. It was affiliated to the Puerto Rico Electric Ability Authority (PREPA) network, which was destroyed by the hurricane.
Meanwhile, in the mountains of Adjuntas, association alignment Casa Pueblo still had power. Neighbors approved advice from the facility, the abandoned abode with ability in boondocks during the María emergency. Casa Pueblo’s solar panels were able with batteries that accustomed it to accomplish abounding time, apart from PREPA, and accept ability at night. The abode became an chargeless activity oasis. Bodies went there to allegation their phones, accept respiratory analysis with energy-powered machines, and aloft all, adapt to advice anniversary added afterwards the affliction accustomed accident the island accomplished in its avant-garde history. It was a accurate archetype of association self-management.
However, best of the added than 10,362 renewable activity units installed by Puerto Ricans concluded up as a roof ornaments, as in the case of Batista, according to an analysis by the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI). The Naguabo citizen belongs to a accumulation of consumers that purchased activity bales from Sunnova Corporation, whose photovoltaic panels and casework accept not delivered on the affiance of extenuative money. Although it is not the abandoned aggregation that installs this accessories in Puerto Rico, the Texas aggregation is the capital provider of renewable activity for residences, and the abandoned one certified by the Activity Commission to action them as leases.
Before Blow María, added than 1,000 bodies had filed complaints adjoin Sunnova at the Absolute Appointment of Chump Protection (OIPC), a chump apostle that monitors PREPA and activity companies. The complaints were mainly accompanying to overbilling problems from Sunnova.
Batista’s backyard is a bindle of acreage that can be beyond from one end to accession in beneath than a minute. It has adhesive planters on both abandon of her clothesline, breadth Batista grows yautía, moringa, mango, chives, papaya, kale, in accession to adopting chickens and geese. She says it is for aliment aegis and self-sufficiency. That’s allotment of the acumen why she absitively to install solar panels—Batista capital to be accessible for aback PREPA’s account failed.
Three years earlier, she active a arrangement with Sunnova to buy solar activity and hire 16 photovoltaic panels. The bill was $108 per ages for 25 years, with an added acquittal of $3 per ages to PREPA. She says she consistently has to pay more.
Batista climbs an aluminum ladder up to her home’s roof and shares her frustration: “I like solar activity because it is apple-pie and produces no noise, but if you do not accept a array that allows you to abstract from the network, the panels do not work.” Aback she entered into the activity acquirement acceding with Sunnova, cipher from the aggregation or PREPA abreast her that the photovoltaic panels wouldn’t assignment alike during the day, aback the sun was out.
According to Batista, Sunnova said it can break the array problem, but it would beggarly a an added arrangement for activity accumulator equipment. Batista believes it is not a acceptable accord for her, aback it agency spending alike added money.
Products Afterwards BatteriesSolar articles afterwards batteries were never accustomed in the Puerto Rican bazaar to bear hurricanes, but to aftermath accumulation on chump bills, said Máximo Torres, an architect and architect of Puerto Rican aggregation Maximo Solar.
“That archetypal is for the United States, but in Puerto Rico there are blackouts and hurricanes,” Torres added. His aggregation supplied photovoltaic panels financed by Sunnova until 2017, but it is no best associated with Sunnova. Now his aggregation installs accessories with batteries, like those at Casa Pueblo.
The ability that solar accessories affiliated to ability grids would not assignment in stronger hurricanes was not a new adumbration for companies like PREPA (a accessible corporation), Sunnova or Maximo Solar. In 2012, for example, hundreds of association in New York and New Jersey could not accomplish their solar activity accessories during Blow Sandy, a class 2 storm.
That was a acquirements acquaintance for the industry: aback the chiral and administering of activity are agitated out through a centralized infrastructure, the arrangement is added accessible to hurricanes—as approved by María, which led to Puerto Rico’s filigree annoyed because ability plants were affiliated to a distinct antecedent at PREPA.
Faced with the absoluteness that best of Puerto Rico’s activity is produced in the island’s southern arena and is mainly captivated mainly in the city breadth (after actuality transported through the mountains by cables that the apprehension destroyed), the addition is to aftermath ability through microgrids. In added words, aftermath activity in abounding sectors abreast altered burning centers, said architect Lionel Orama, coordinator of the Island’s National Institute of Activity and Sustainability (INES), a accumulation of University of Puerto Rico academics that conducts analysis to break the island’s activity problems.
“María slapped us in the face and fabricated us apprentice that we accept to change the way we see the photovoltaic system, not aloof as a way to pay beneath money to PREPA, but to accomplish aegis during hurricanes,” Orama added.
Energy Ability in the MountainsOn Dec. 26, Alexis Massol, one of the Casa Pueblo founders, accumulating to the Saltillo breadth of Adjuntas, arch a arch over a ravine, traveling through a addled alley and accession at a adhesive house. There, the chiral antenna of Casa Pueblo’s radio base was actuality set up. Unlike the organization’s abode amid in Adjuntas’ burghal area, this abode had to depend on a ability bulb afterwards the hurricane.
Since then, there are now 42 solar panels that Radio Casa Pueblo has afresh installed on the roof and on a agronomical abaft the house. Inside, there is a array coffer that provides ability for three beeline days, in case bad acclimate does not acquiesce the panels to accept abundant sunlight.
Efraim Ayala, a artisan for Maximo Solar, bargain a “PREPA” batten to booty Radio Casa Pueblo “off the grid” or alfresco the network. “They are now broken from PREPA,” he abreast Massol. And that’s how Radio Casa Pueblo created Puerto Rico’s aboriginal radio chiral belfry powered absolutely by a renewable and absolute antecedent from PREPA.
“We no best accept to pay money to the Authority. We will accept savings,” said Massol, who is internationally accustomed with the Goldman Ecology Prize (considered the “green” Nobel). “I feel happy. The activity we aftermath does not accept to affect the ambiance because it is clean. We appetite to be able for altitude change.”
Casa Pueblo, with about 40 years of association self-management and activism in favor of ecology causes, is one of the few organizations that can affirmation victory. Blow María appear that of all the residential, bartering and automatic solar projects affiliated to PREPA (including those of companies besides Sunnova), abandoned a few were able to accomplish apart afterwards a abortion in the ability network. The accessories is allotment of the net metering system, in which companies advertise allotment of the activity they aftermath with their renewable systems to PREPA.
“About 10 percent of all those affiliated to the net metering arrangement accept batteries,” Francisco Rullán, controlling administrator of the State Appointment of Accessible Activity Action (OEPPE) told the CPI. “Now, with the aggression of the hurricane, I would acquaint you that best appetite to install them.” María brought about a abundant change in the island’s renewable industry: the advance to install batteries.
For Efraín O’Neill, activity systems researcher at the University of Puerto Rico’s Mayagüez campus, talking about activity aegis and ability additionally agency that bounded companies allegation be in allegation of managing the renewable system.
Texas-based Sunnova has 62 percent of all the net metering arrangement business at the residential akin in Puerto Rico, according to analysis by the CPI.
The net metering arrangement has 10,362 customers, PREPA told the CPI. In accession to Sunnova’s 6,000 barter who are already affiliated to the network, it has about 4,000 barter cat-and-mouse for PREPA to affix them into the net metering system, which would accord the aggregation 97 percent of Puerto Rico’s residential business for renewables.
“We went from deposit annex to renewables annex with a aggregation that is not from here. We abide to accelerate the money out of the island,” O’Neill said about Sunnova’s bazaar dominance.
“This worries me. You accept accession PREPA basically. This is a problem,” said José Alberto Pérez Vélez, the OIPC’s director, apropos the development of a accessible monopoly. “The aggregation afresh has added albatross in acceding of the advice it allegation action to customers. We accept to anticipate these companies from acceptable what PREPA was, through overbilling, poor account and inefficiency.”
Cars Become GeneratorsIn Batista’s garage, there is a car with the awning open. She had to affix a 1,500-watt inverter to the vehicle’s battery, and bung in an addendum bond to backpack ability to the algidity accessories and the fan. But she bare to pump added and added gas every time to accumulate the car on and assure the battery.
“Sunnova told me that in the meantime, to break the problem, I should buy a ability generator,” she added. “And I can’t angle generators. I can’t beddy-bye with the noise.”
Madeline Batista’s car became an activity sourcePhoto credit: Photo by the Center for Investigative Journalism
Having a ability architect or application the car absolutely goes adjoin Batista’s ambition of cleaner energy. According to Batista, application added ability from deposit fuels is what causes all-around warming.
“This movement from citizens who are for renewable energy, for cleaner energy, don’t deserve that afterwards they accomplish such a ample investment,” said Pérez Vélez.
Sunnova’s ResponseSunnova, however, blames PREPA for the abeyance of its customers’ service.
“People were larboard afterwards ability because of PREPA’s regulations. Solar panels cannot assignment if PREPA’s filigree does not work. If the arrangement collapses, all renewable systems collapse 100 percent,” said Karla Zambrana, accepted administrator of Sunnova in Puerto Rico, during an account with the CPI.
Renewable accessories is automatically broken aback PREPA’s account is interrupted. It is a aegis admeasurement to abstain sending electricity to PREPA’s arrangement and assure advisers who are acclimation the grid.
On Oct. 10, during affairs that Gov. Ricardo Rosselló captivated with altered sectors, he asked Sunnova assembly to acquisition solutions. “The ambition was to annihilate the authority of the alternation action with PREPA, so that customers, already the filigree is restored, can activate to adore the account bound afterwards the authoritative process,” Zambrana told the CPI.
For the OIPC, the problems with the net metering arrangement are a aggregate albatross with PREPA. “When the net metering arrangement started, you could accept been cat-and-mouse for PREPA to affix you for added than a year. Afresh there was 2014 and 2016 legislation that bargain the time to 70 days. It is a cogent footfall forward, but we are able-bodied behind,” Pérez Vélez said. “There are jurisdictions in the United States breadth you can do it online and it takes two or three days. It’s not fair that you accept to delay so continued to aftermath apple-pie energy.”
As of today, the island generates abandoned 2 percent of its activity from renewable sources, mainly from solar and wind utilities apprenticed beneath the administering of above Gov. Luis Fortuño. The action is currently actuality questioned in the courts. Law 82 of 2010 ordered Puerto Rico to breeding 12 percent of all electricity with assets such as solar and wind by 2019.
Confusion Following Sunnova’s “Media Tour”The day afterwards affair with Rosselló, Sunnova’s arch controlling officer, John Berger, appeared in Puerto Rican media, talking about bringing batteries to break the abridgement of ability amid customers. But he disregarded a key detail: he did not say that there would be an added cost.
As a result, Lydia Rosa, a Carolina citizen with 30 Sunnova solar panels, believed that the batteries were activity to be provided for free, because she anticipation that the aggregation affected the albatross to fix the problem.
She wasn’t alone. “Many bodies alleged my appointment to accuse that they bare a battery,” Pérez Vélez said, acclamation the abashing created afterwards Sunnova’s media tour.
The aggregation had to analyze advice with the media: barter had to pay for the batteries.
Rosa said that aback she contacted the aggregation to break her problem, she was offered a 13.5 kilowatt hours (KWh) battery, at $100 per month, for 10 years. The activity accumulator accessory would never accord to her because, like the solar panels on her roof, Sunnova offers accessories abandoned through leasing, a business archetypal accepted as PPA (Power Acquirement Agreement). Sunnova does not acquiesce its barter to buy batteries at a bigger bulk from accession supplier.
“Puerto Ricans were advised like idiots,” Rosa said.
So why is Sunnova alms batteries now?
“María’s appulse fabricated us change our business archetypal to accommodate a band-aid to the chump so they are able to adore activity continuously. That’s aback we fabricated this bazaar decision,” Zambrana told the CPI.
The CPI additionally asked Zambrana if the aggregation had anticipation about this action afore Blow María.
“Yes. What Blow María did was acceleration up the time to accompany the product,” she replied. Sunnova has been in Puerto Rico aback 2012.
The blow additionally accent the tensions amid PREPA and Sunnova, a aggregation acquisitive to aggrandize its business and boldness abashing with customers. Rosselló’s latest controlling adjustment did not advance to a resolution, aback PREPA did not accelerate the action of abutting clandestine accessories to the accessible electricity grid.
As of Dec. 1, the net metering arrangement had 10,362 subscribers, the aforementioned as afore the hurricane. PREPA’s apathetic acknowledgment acquired Sunnova to respond. The company’s administration beatific a letter (which it did not accomplish public) to PREPA controlling administrator Justo González and administering board, as able-bodied as to Rosselló, alleging the agency’s cessation and the abhorrence to assignment with Sunnova.
“PREPA has not complied with the governor’s Controlling Order, which abominably creates a bearings that casts a adumbration over PREPA’s efforts and allegation to agilely accompany aback ability to its clients, and allegation to its obligations. Sunnova hereby requests a final and absolute date to complete this process,” Berger said in the statement. “The abridgement of ability afterwards three months, and the abhorrence of PREPA to assignment with companies like ours, continues to arrest abatement and accretion efforts on the island—to the damage of bounded residents.”
PREPA’s controlling administrator did not acknowledge to several requests by the CPI for interviews to allocution about this bulk and added aspects accompanying to renewable energy.
Casa Pueblo’s solar activity angry the academy into a ability hub for neighbors.Photo credit: Photos by the Center for Investigative Journalism
Quality of Activity in the Face of an EmergencyIn the alien breadth of El Hoyo in Adjuntas, there is a three-feet advanced adhesive aisle that leads to 25 bashful homes congenital mainly of wood. In eight of the homes, Casa Pueblo has installed solar accessories that looks like a baby house. The accessories works well. There are two photovoltaic panels and a battery, with a 300-watt inverter, that connects to two ablaze bulbs, a handheld radio and a mini-fridge.
A acquaintance keeps two bottles of baptize in the mini-fridge, forth with a bite and the insulin she needs to accumulate algid for her diabetic husband. In accession abode amid on a hill, María Medina can now about-face on the apparatus she needs to conduct her circadian dialysis and abode her branch failure. She will no best accept to chase chiral treatments, which is beneath able than automatic treatments. “For me, this has been an befalling to get out of the crisis,” explained Medina, who got two added panels from Casa Pueblo for the dialysis machine. “This was my Christmas present.”
Reducing ConsumptionFor Puerto Rico to accomplish the bound into activity sustainability, it allegation activate by abbreviation burning and cerebration about accessories that meets the best important needs, Orama told the CPI.
“These canicule you can arise solar panels with activity accumulator that is costing 20 cents per kilowatt hour, about the aforementioned as what you are advantageous PREPA. We accept to alpha talking to bodies afresh about the actuality that there is accessories that provides, at the actual least, affection of activity in emergencies. That is abundant bigger than aught activity or a blatant ability architect that harms the ambiance and makes you absorb money and time continuing in curve to buy gasoline,” said Orama, apropos to addition systems alfresco of Sunnova.
The emergency solar accessories that Casa Pueblo broadcast costs about $1,800 and has been a conservancy for the massive blackout acquired by María. “We accept to anticipate about a arrangement that serves us for the essentials, to gradually become absolute from an oil-based system,” Massol added.
A few accomplish from Adjuntas’ boondocks square, at Casa Pueblo’s headquarters, Massol absolved into the area aloof as the ability was alpha to be adequate in the town. It had been added than three months aback the blow hit on Sept. 20. He saw a acquaintance allurement for a duke lamp, which accuse by abrogation it in the sun all day. Afterwards seeing a Casa Pueblo agent accumulation the equipment, Massol acicular to a assurance acquaint on the roof of the organization’s headquarters, which says: “Transforming the crisis with solar activity alternatives.”
That adage is not a fantasy, he told the CPI. “There is an activity advantage actuality that works perfectly. This ecology address is not a abstract message. It’s a applied message,” Massol said.
When Solar Activity Is Added ExpensiveAt the OIPC, Pérez Vélez reviews the accent of renewable energies and how ailing they accept been implemented in Puerto Rico.
Many of the complaints to the OIPC are from consumers who paid about $300 to PREPA and afterwards signing a arrangement with Sunnova to lower their bills, paid this Texas aggregation up to $200 per ages additional about $200 to PREPA, for a absolute of $400.
“They went attractive for article bigger and came aback with worse,” Pérez Vélez said.
When consumers entered into leasing agreements for the photovoltaic panels with Sunnova, the panels were accepted to aftermath about 1,500 kilowatts. They ultimately generated bisected of that. “Because the panels accomplish beneath than the chump needs, the accessories is commutual with PREPA to buy electricity. You will never pay abandoned the $3 to PREPA that they promised you. It will consistently be more,” he explained.
Sunnova said it cannot acceding barter that they will abandoned pay the PREPA the estimated $3. “PREPA’s bill for anniversary applicant depends on the bulk of activity acclimated in the arrangement afterwards the assembly of solar activity has been discounted,” the aggregation said in a statement.
The CPI accepted that at atomic one company, Alpha Solar, sells Sunnova contracts, so sometimes barter are accomplishing business with Sunnova afterwards alive it. Afterwards signing an activity acquirement agreement, the companies that install Sunnova accessories are Windmar Home, New Energy, Pure Energy, Integrated Solar Operations and Mel Pro.
Sunnova accustomed in Puerto Rico six years ago, aback the bulk of PREPA’s activity was absolutely expensive, at about 28 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh). It approved to attempt with PREPA by implementing a bulk of about 20 cents per kWh. But that was not activity to aftermost long.
“The aggregation knew that the bulk of PREPA’s kilowatt hour was not activity to break that high. The bodies of Puerto Rico could not abide advantageous those amounts,” Pérez Vélez added.
Batista pays 19 cents per kWh to Sunnova, additional 21 cents per kWh to PREPA. Aback the bulk of the accessible corporation’s activity fell to 17 cents per kWh in 2016, Sunnova’s bulk remained higher. She consistently paid two aerial bills, with altered accumulating criteria—and she consistently paid added than what she was promised.
The OIPC considers Sunnova affairs as burdensome. For instance, the affairs do not admittance disputes in bounded Puerto Rican courts. All disputes go through an adjudication action in Texas, which consumers themselves accept to pay, according to Pérez Vélez.
Of the complaints filed with the OIPC afore the hurricane, 300 became academic complaints afore the Activity Commission (EC), which oversees the island’s accessible activity action and investigates these issues.
“Now we accept to add a new agency to the investigation: seeing what the customer’s apprehension is aback a arrangement is active and if the apprehension was to accept abandoned apple-pie activity or to accept sustainability aback the filigree collapsed,” said José Román, acting admiral of the EC. The analysis is attractive into if, according to customers’ activity expectations, Sunnova now has to accommodate the array account chargeless of charge, added Román.
As for the boondocks of Adjuntas and Casa Pueblo? Despite cher solar equipment, abounding apperceive that their action can advance the island to activity independence. For example, aback the absolute boondocks was in darkness, a accumulation of neighbors went to a association cinema powered by solar energy, as they did on Dec. 23 to watch a documentary. And that Casa Pueblo can accelerate a cable to ability the radio station’s cabins, which are abaft the house, as they did afterwards Blow María. The alignment has already broadcast about 10,000 solar lamps. At night, in the black of the mountains, you can see the lights moving.
This adventure from Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism was fabricated accessible as allotment of a accord with the Futuro Media Group, accurate by the Ford Foundation. English Version by Michelle Kantrow and Julio Ricardo Varela. Leer in Español.
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