In Maria's Wake, Could Puerto Rico Go Totally Green?
October 1, 2017 Harvey Wasserman / The Progressive & Bold Progressives.org
The ecological and humanitarian destruction of Puerto Rico has left the world aghast. But there is a hopeful green-powered opportunity in this disaster that could vastly improve the island's future while offering the world a critical showcase for a sane energy future. Instead of oil-fueled pole-and-powerline power, a decentralized network of green micro-grids with solar panels and battery backups could provide access to dependable local power that would promote self-sufficiency in the face of future storms.
In Maria's Wake,
Could Puerto Rico Go Totally Green? Harvey Wasserman / The Progressive
(September 28, 2017) -- The ecological and humanitarian destruction of Puerto Rico has left the world aghast. But there is a hopeful green-powered opportunity in this disaster that could vastly improve the island's future while offering the world a critical showcase for a sane energy future.
By all accounts Hurricane Maria has leveled much of the island, and literally left it in the dark. Puerto Rico's electrical grid has been extensively damaged, with no prospects for a return to conventionally generated and distributed power for months to come.
In response Donald Trump has scolded the island for it's massive debt, and waited a full week after the storm hit to lift a shipping restriction requiring all incoming goods to be carried on US-flagged ships. (That restriction is largely responsible for the island's economic problems in the first place.)
The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority is a state-owned operation that hosts a number of solar and wind farms, as well as a network of hydroelectric dams. But the bulk of its energy supply has come from heavy industrial oil, diesel and gas burners. It also burns coal imported from Colombia at a plant in Guyama.
The fossil burners themselves apparently were left mostly undamaged by Maria. But the delivery system, a traditional network of above-ground poles and wires, has essentially been obliterated. Power authority officials say it could take at least 4-6 months to rebuild that network.
And of course, there is no guaranteeing such a pole-and-wire set-up would not then be obliterated by the next storm.
Among the most serious casualties have been the island's hospitals. According to reports, 58 of Puerto Rico's 69 medical facilities have been blacked out. At least two people died when intensive care units went dark.
But therein lies the opportunity. With solar panels and battery backups, every one of those hospitals could be energy self-sufficient. Throughout the U.S. such technology is now being applied at medical facilities, data processing and storage facilities, and other critical units.
According to Mark Sommer, a California-based energy expert, Puerto Rico could safeguard such critical facilities and far more quickly restore its power by letting go of the old paradigm of central-generated and distributed electricity, and moving instead to a decentralized network of green-based micro-grids.
Micro-grids are community-based networks that power smaller geographic and consumer areas than the big central grids like the one that served Puerto Rico. Mostly they are based on decentralized generation, including networks of roof-top solar panels.
As Sommer puts it: "renewably powered microgrids are a relatively simple and already mature technology that can be deployed in months rather than years and once the initial investment is recovered deliver dramatically lower energy bills."
Because Puerto Rico is mountainous and hosts many small, remote villages, the island's best hope for a manageable energy future is with decentralized power production in self-sustaining neighborhoods.
Built around small-scale wind and solar arrays, with battery backups protected from inevitable floods and hurricanes, Puerto Rico could protect its electricity supply from the next natural disaster while building up a healthy, low-cost energy economy.
The island is also a good source of sugar cane and other fast-growing tropical vegetation, making a strong case for bio-mass sources like ethanol. Much of Brazil's automobile fleet runs at least partly on fuel produced by fermenting bagasse, a by-product of the country's huge sugar cane crop.
With local financing and ownership, the prospects for a sun-drenched eco-system like Puerto Rico's to go to renewable-based micro-grids are overwhelming. In terms of cost, immediacy, immunity from the next hurricane and long-term sustainability, this is a tragic but unique opportunity.
There is little precedent for an entire geographic entity to lose 100% of its grid. We can expect a deaf ear on this from a Trump Administration dominated by the fossil fuel and nuclear power industries.
But to rebuild Puerto Rico's electric grid in a traditional centralized fashion would only prolong Maria's agony while leaving the island deathly vulnerable to the next big wind storm.
Puerto Rico's best hope for a safe, prosperous, sustainable energy future is to take control of its power supply with a mix of renewable generation, protected backup storage, and a decentralized, local-based network of community-owned microgrids.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico Devastated:
Sign the Petition Congress must indefinitely lift foreign ship restrictions on Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to help get aid to the islands as soon as possible.
(September 30, 2017) – Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico devastated. A majority of Puerto Rico's hospitals are without electricity, more than 95% of Puerto Rico's cell towers are out of service, and 1.5 million people are without drinking water.
Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, is desperately pleading for hurricane assistance, saying that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) response has been slow, unorganized, and bureaucratic. Trump's response this morning was a series of vicious tweets attacking her and Puerto Rico.
After a public outcry, Trump finally announced late this week that the United States will lift foreign ship restrictions to Puerto Rico as it did with hurricanes in Texas and Florida -- but only for 10 days. The Jones Act being lifted a week late for ten days is far too little, far too late.
A majority of Puerto Rico's hospitals are without electricity, more than 95% of Puerto Rico's cell towers are out of service, and 1.5 million people are without drinking water.
And yet, Trump is only lifting the Jones Act for 10 days? Recovering will take much longer than this, and we must allow the resources people need to survive to arrive in a timely manner -- until all recovering is complete.
Since Trump won't act, we're turning to Congress.
Sign the petition: Congress must indefinitely lift foreign ship restrictions on Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to help get aid in as soon as possible.
Add your name to our petition. We will personally deliver your message to Paul Ryan's district office in Racine and urge him to take up legislation to indefinitely remove foreign ship restrictions on Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.