A full year has passed since Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico’s 3.3 million residents without power. Just last month, the island’s power authority announced electricity had been fully restored. However, some residents were still waiting.
But work on building a stronger electric grid in Puerto Rico hasn’t even started yet. That means even the weakest hurricane could cause widespread blackouts. “If something like [Hurricane] Maria comes back to this island, we are going to have problems,” said José Sepúlveda, head of distribution and transmission for the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA).
The patchwork fix to get the island this far took $4.2 billion of FEMA funding. Having a more resilient, more stable, stronger grid will be even more expensive — at least $30 billion in upfront costs and ongoing investment, estimates Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Roselló. That would include building new generating capacity, rebuilding and upgrading transmission and distribution lines, and adding smart grid technology. None of which has begun yet.
After years of mismanagement of the grid, many Puerto Ricans are not convinced that PREPA is capable of building a stronger one, even with the help of outside contractors.
Juan Rosario, an activist and former consumer advocate on PREPA’s board, believes the answer lies in decentralized renewable energy projects that allow people to get their power without relying on the government. Since Hurricane Maria, Rosario has been helping people in nearly 20 communities across Puerto Rico install their own solar panels and make energy-efficiency changes.
“It’s going to be our system, it’s going to be our money, it’s going to be our decision,” says Rosario of the future of power generation on the island. “I’m optimistic about the future. Because either we change, or we are going to be wiped out.”
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Beeler, Carolyn. (26 Aug 2018). Power is restored to Puerto Rico, but work to build a stronger grid is yet to begin. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.