Empowering Culebra

by Puerto Rico Community Foundation
Empowering Culebra

Five years have gone by since Hurricanes Irma and María struck our archipelago. After that, we’ve undergone earthquakes and COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and Hurricane Fiona in 2022. These events have given us the strength to continue with our community solar project: Empowering Culebra. It is because of these difficult times, added to the continuous unreliable energy system, that we continue to engage community, municipal and other government partners to make it happen.

The on-going strategic conversation with Economic Development Administration (EDA) has provided the guide for the project. Our goal is to engage community business and non-profit leaders to become part of this solar energy infrastructure; this has come with challenges, as many of the physical infrastructures are not in compliance to receive such a system, and many other infrastructures do not belong to the owner of the commerce.

Development and construction has to be done in block, for which we will commence with 29 installations, that will generate over 700 Kwdc. Our goal is to have over fifty-five business, non-profit and critical facilities sites producing  950 kW (kilowatts) of power, generated from the sun. This represents approximately ¼ of the energy Culebra’s residents and visitors need to live, provide essential services and generate economic activity.

The mayor continues to be engaged in the process and the business and non-profit leaders. “The solar energy infrastructure would be the greatest blessings that we small merchants in Culebra could have”, said Guillermo Ávila, owner of the Country Family in Culebra, a hostel that receives hundreds of visitors to this municipal island. “I preferred to close because I couldn’t afford the high fuel costs”, said Ávila in reference to the passage of Hurricane Fiona in September 2022, through Caribbean. Commercial and non-profit organizations, have to take drastic decisions to close their business as fuel costs keep on the rising.

After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September 2017, Culebra and Vieques, two municipal islands in the north-eastern region, suffered from lack of energy for more than a year. Power generators had been providing the source to maintain electricity in the island with an unprecedented, elevated cost and with a negative impact on the environment. According to Census 2020, Culebra population is 1,792. Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico (FCPR) proposed to transform Culebra's energy system into a renewable system providing a solar energy infrastructure to local businesses like supermarkets, restaurants, hardware stores, and municipal critical facilities, as well as local community-based organizations that are providing the Culebrenses with a wide array of services. 

The project started in 2019 with planning and matching grants efforts. By 2020, the work concentrated on contracting staff, legal, compliance, and engineers for the design. In 2021, PRCF celebrated community outreaches and individual and collective structure predesigns.

The project is funded by EDA, GlobalGiving, Prudential, and other private donors. Be a part of the transformation of Culebra and continue to support this project. 

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Culebra’s Solar Energy Project will switch-on before the peak of the hurricane season, during the beginning of September 2022. Community engagement and participation has been key in moving this project forward for the past three years. And we can say we’re almost ready! Over fifty-five business, non-profit and critical facilities sites will produce 950 kW (kilowatts) of power, generated from the sun. This represents approximately ¼ of the energy Culebra’s residents and visitors needs to live, provide essential services and generate economic activity.

We have established a separate corporation to manage, maintain and provide services to the energy system and its clientele. A novel operation that seeks to maintain the project running and generating the income to become self-sufficient.

After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September 2017, Culebra and Vieques, two municipal islands in the north-eastern region, suffered from lack of energy for more than a year. Power generators had been providing the source to maintain electricity in the island with an unprecedented, elevated cost and with a negative impact on the environment. According to Census 2020, Culebra population is 1,792. Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico (FCPR) proposed to transform Culebra's energy system into a renewable system providing a solar energy infrastructure to local businesses like supermarkets, restaurants, hardware stores, and municipal critical facilities, as well as local community-based organizations that are providing the Culebrenses with a wide array of services. 

The project started in 2019 with planning and matching grants efforts. By 2020, the work concentrated on contracting staff, legal, compliance, and engineers for the design. In 2021, PRCF celebrated community outreaches and individual and collective structure predesigns.

The project is funded by EDA, GlobalGiving, Prudential, and other private donors. Be a part of the transformation of Culebra and continue to support this project. 

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Presentation of energetics opportunities.
Presentation of energetics opportunities.

The Renewable Energy for Culebra project in Culebra, Puerto Rico, is already in the pre-construction stage. After many community meetings to garner participation and commitment, and despite the pandemic of COVID, we are ready to begin with the installation of the solar systems in over 50 businesses, critical facilities, and nonprofits organizations. One can only notice the joy the project brings to Culebrenses.

“I’m very emotional about this project because we are a small island, disconnected from the big island, lacking the most basic resources of subsistence. But thanks to this project, we will be able to overcome future events and maintain our island running”, said Ada Soto, director of the Asociación Educativa y Pro-Desarrollo Humano de Culebra.

Ada has lived firsthand, what it is to become a community first responder, providing the small community of Culebra with emergency care. They have also become a resilient center providing water - they have two cisterns (1,200 gallons each one) - a kitchen to provide food, Internet to provide connectivity, and energy to store essentials like medicine and food provided by a partial solar system. The project will allow them to have a full solar energy system to become a more resourceful organization for their community. 

“We want to step it up and substantially improve what we already have”, she explains. “To have a center 100% solarized will become of huge benefit to the whole community to face future crises. To continue our operation uninterrupted, despite the lack of water or power from Puerto Rico’s centralized utility services, will be of great benefit for the people of Culebra”, she added.

After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September 2017, Culebra and Vieques, two municipal islands in the north-eastern region, suffered from lack of energy for more than a year. Power generators had been providing the source to maintain electricity in the island with an unprecedented, elevated cost and with a negative impact on the environment. According to Census 2020, Culebra population is 1,792. The Puerto Rico Community Foundation (PRCF) proposed to transform Culebra's energy system into a renewable system providing a solar energy infrastructure to local businesses like supermarkets, restaurants, hardware stores, and municipal critical facilities, as well as local community based organizations that are providing the Culebrenses with a wide array of services. 

“The services will not be interrupted, and we can keep bringing services to the community”, highlighted the woman which born in Culebra. “We will have resources to get up after an emergency, while the help arrives”, added.  

The project started in 2019 with planning and matching grants efforts. By 2020, the work concentrated on contracting staff, legal, compliance, and engineers for the design. In 2021, PRCF celebrated community outreaches and individual and collective structure predesigns. Also, requested to Puerto Rico Energy Bureau the certification of Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico Servicios Inc., as an electric power company. Fifty different designs were made to comply with each physical structure. The project will power 950 kv.  

The project is funded by Economic Development Administration (EDA), GlobalGiving, Prudential and other private donors. Be a part of the transformation of Culebra and continue to support this project. 

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As our project in Culebra is advancing in its planning, design and community participation stages, we’ve had the support of the non-profit sector of this municipal island with a population of 1,800 individuals and host of thousands in their vacation travels.The president of the Board of Directors of Fundación Culebra is very happy with the progress of the Resiliency and Economic Development for Culebra Project, implemented by Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico. The project will provide renewable energy infrastructure to 100% of Culebra’s business and non-profit sector, and distributed solar energy generation and storage system facilitating uninterrupted essential services to Culebra's social and economic ecosystem.

“This initiative will allow us to become stronger to face natural events and emergencies. We are excited to know that businesses, gas stations and supermarkets will have solar energy to continue their operations. If everything is working relative normally, it helps the community to be calm in the aftermath of a disaster”, said the president of the Board of Fundación Culebra. “For a small island as Culebra, this becomes a huge benefit because, due to our municipal island status, we are overlooked and authorities tend to assist the people in the big island. We are totally isolated. With solar energy, we can continue operating after a disaster. We will not be panic.”, added.

The inclusion of the non-profit sector in the project is essential. In the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and María, it was this sector that uplifted the well-being of the Culebrenses. They provided emergency relief – water, food, health services – but they’ve also been instrumental in building back better with a sustainable long-term vision. 

“In a place like Culebra where we have sun all year round, I still think it’s unbelievable, that we don’t use it to generate energy. This is a perfect place to implement this project and become an example of what is possible, while we become the first island in the Americas to have a renewable energy infrastructure”, said.

The project started at 2019 with planning and matching grants efforts. By 2020, the work concentrated in contracting of staff, legal, compliance and engineers for the design. During this year, Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico celebrated community outreaches and individual and collective structure predesigns. Also, requested to Puerto Rico Energy Bureau the certification of Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico Servicios Inc., as an electric power company.

The project is funded by  Economic Development Administration (EDA), GlobalGiving, Prudential and other private donors. Be a part of the transformation of Culebra and continue to support this project.

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Alberto Santiago, Culebra project manager.
Alberto Santiago, Culebra project manager.

We have enjoyed every planning trip and community gathering held on the small municipal island of Culebra. As the Hurricane season has just begun, this project becomes more relevant to Culebra’s economic eco-system and for the well-being of all Culebrenses. Over 63 sites will be solarized providing this island community an energy resiliency that could be replicated in other Caribbean Islands and it is also an example of community participation in their resiliency process.

Many meetings have taken place, many of them hosted in community-based organizations. One of these organizations is Mujeres de Islas (Women of the Islands), which focuses on creating spaces for women, children, and overall residents to work on their self-development and community sustainable initiatives. The co-founder of this organization recently expressed the frustration of the islanders while sharing the experience of being more than a year without energy after Hurricane María. “This is going to be extremely important; our survival will depend on this project. We won’t have to rely on an underwater cable coming from the big island and connecting to the other municipal Island – Vieques – before connecting with Culebra.”, she said.

Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico is well on its way with the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau-NEPR to certify that these installations will become a reliable source of energy in Culebra. However, there are some areas that continue to need the support of donors from around the world to support the strengthening of physical infrastructures that will hold the energy infrastructures. 

If you’ve visited Culebra, you know the special place it is and the warmth of its people. If not, this is your opportunity to connect with a resilient and beautiful place in the Caribbean. We encourage you to become part of this process and we thank you for your gift through GlobalGiving.

*FCPR presented this project as a proposal to EDA in late 2018. During the summer of 2019, a $4 million grant was approved and allowed us to define a specific quantitative goal.

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Organization Information

Puerto Rico Community Foundation

Location: San Juan - Puerto Rico
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @FComunitaria
Project Leader:
Mary Ann Gabino
San Juan, Puerto Rico
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