Department of Energy secretary Jennifer Granholm is spending spring break on a taxpayer-funded trip to Puerto Rico this week, her fourth official visit to the island since October.
Granholm arrived in Puerto Rico on Monday and is scheduled to stay until Friday. Her public schedule listed three events during her first two days, including touring a technical college and visiting with a local homeowner. On Wednesday, she will tour a community solar project, host an energy and agriculture round table, and visit a bioenergy generation center. She will also attend a disabilities round table later in the week.
One of Granholm's goals at DOE has been to help modernize Puerto Rico's struggling power grid, which was nearly wiped out by Hurricane Maria in 2017. But her extended visits to the U.S. island—she has spent at least 10 official work days there since February—are raising eyebrows with energy experts, who questioned the necessity of the long junkets amid a global energy crisis.
"This trip will easily cost the taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars between the advance teams, security, support staff, and more," said one former DOE official.
"We are in the middle of a domestic and global energy crisis, and under her watch the American people are paying the price for this administration's failed energy policies," the former official added. "Unless Granholm is there installing the solar panels herself, there is no reason for her to be on the ground for that long."
A DOE spokesperson defended the lengthy trips, telling the Washington Free Beacon that the "residents of Puerto Rico are American citizens who for too long have suffered from an unreliable electric grid due to needless obstacles and unnecessary delays preventing critical investments to improve the system."
"Secretary Granholm's highest priority is helping ensure all Americans everywhere gain access to clean, reliable, and affordable power, and Puerto Ricans are no exception," the spokesperson said.
The latest weeklong trip comes days after Granholm told Congress that DOE has no plans to take advantage of plunging oil prices to restock the U.S. strategic oil reserves, which the Biden administration sold off to ease gas prices before the election.
"This year, it will be difficult for us to take advantage of this low price," Granholm told lawmakers last Thursday. "But we will continue to look for that low price into the future because we intend to be able to save the taxpayer dollars."
Granholm's last weeklong trip to Puerto Rico was in February, when she "sat down with community members" to provide "updates on the department's urgent work to help repair and modernize Puerto Rico's grid with clean and reliable power sources," according to a press release. This week she said her meetings are geared to setting Puerto Rico on a path toward "100 percent renewable energy."
"Excited to kick off Day 2 in Puerto Rico with @IBEW Local 222 and @AGCPRChapter," wrote Granholm on Twitter. "We're on the ground meeting with local unions about workforce development that will allow PR to reach its goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2050."
She previously visited the island in October and November.
Puerto Rico has struggled with its power grid for decades, and the 2017 hurricane knocked out electricity for many residents for nearly a year. In 2021, a private company took over managing the system from the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, a state agency rife with corruption and mismanagement. The federal government has poured billions into rebuilding and privatizing the grid, but the island continues to face recurrent power outages.