On average, Puerto Ricans spend 8 percent of their income on electricity, more than three times what mainland US citizens pay. Addressing this disparity in affordable electricity services and grid stability in Puerto Rico, Barrio Eléctrico began installing solar and energy storage systems on homes in Barrio Pasto in Coamo last month.
“Municipal governments are families' first line of defense against calamities, and yet we are all severely limited in resources” said Coamo Mayor Juan Carlos García Padilla. “I have been looking for solutions to the unreliable and non-resilient power in my municipality since the 2017 hurricanes with no results. I finally have a solution I can endorse to meet the needs of everyone in my community, regardless of income, and that will bring economic development and other public benefits that can only be secured with reliable electricity.”
Barrio Eléctrico operates a decentralised community-powered solar model by working with and through community organisations to reach people needing reliable power faster and more efficiently. To ensure the expansion's success, Barrio Eléctrico partnered with Coamo's Fundación Pro-Desarroyo de San Diego, Inc., the community group responsible for the community aqueduct system that supplies drinking water in the area. The partnership aims to address the energy challenges that often burden lower-income households while promoting sustainability and reducing financial hardships.
To provide a greater depth of services to Barrio Eléctrico members, the organisation sought support from the White House-sponsored inter-agency Rural Partners Network of Puerto Rico. Empowered by the Biden-Harris Administration’s Justice40 Initiative, the Rural Partners Network can help direct funding to effective solutions and has identified Barrio Eléctrico’s partnership with Coamo communities as an initial project and will make funds available to assist with home repairs and upgrades needed in advance of solar installations.
“No family should have to face the potential of bankruptcy to have the essential service of reliable power to support their well-being or their livelihood” added Lauren Rosenblatt, founder of Barrio Eléctrico. “Puerto Rico has a high proportion of households with elderly or medically vulnerable residents. More than half of the residential meters serve households that fall within the low- and moderate-income definition. Our mission extends beyond providing solar energy to individual homes; we are building stronger, more resilient communities.”
Barrio Eléctrico’s members receive reliable electricity and a reduced financial burden from utility bills. At the same time, the community experiences more economic prosperity and reduced strain on the traditional grid. Barrio Eléctrico optimises the equipment so individuals do not have to research the trade-offs between cost and durability. The nonprofit also provides all operations and maintenance, relieving the home of that responsibility during the life of the service contract.
Coamo joins the municipalities of Isabela, Aguadilla, Moca, Quebradillas, and Camuy, where Barrio Eléctrico has already established its programme. Approximately 100 homes have solar and storage systems or are pending installation through the organisation’s efforts. Of those 100 homes, all are LMI households, and 86 percent have one or more persons who rely on an electric-powered device to treat a medical condition.
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