By creating a microgrid with other local businesses on the grid, including a bakery, hardware store, and pharmacy, Adjuntas could gain energy security during emergencies, all while starving the fossil fuel industry by unplugging those with the highest energy demands.
Puerto Ricans were plunged in the dark once more in January, this time due to an earthquake that severely damaged a major power plant near the southern coast. Recurring tremors led to thousands sleeping in the open for weeks. The blackout, while temporary, was ominously reminiscent of the long blackout following Hurricane María two years ago, which left some residents without power for nearly a year.
The difference between Casa Pueblo’s shining example and the bleak energy reality faced by Puerto Ricans at large is the main lament of the documentary DisemPOWERed. Written and produced by anthropology and Latin American studies professor Sandy Smith-Nonini, this indie film is a meticulously researched, densely informative—yet accessible—exposé of Puerto Rico’s economic, political and energy woes.
A volunteer-built church saved the island of Culebra, Puerto Rico, from being used as target practice in 1971. Later, land trusts have helped residents rebuild after hurricanes.
At farms like Cosechas Tierra Viva in Las Piedras, run by Eduardo Burgos and Franco Marcano, where they grow kale, arugula, green beans, and eggplant for local farmers’ markets, the storm kicked them into high gear. Just a month after Maria’s landfall, they converted the farm to run exclusively on solar energy and shifted their irrigation system’s source to rainwater.
A just recovery for Puerto Rico not only means rebuilding what Maria destroyed, but reclaiming the political and economic agency stifled by American colonialism.
This was no mere “natural” disaster. The impacts of Hurricane Maria were to a large extent attributable to inequalities of race, income and — critically — access to political power.
The immediate energy nightmare in Puerto Rico is gradually winding down, with electrical power now available to about 90 percent of households (some rural areas are still without power). But it’s clear to nearly everyone that a reversion to the island’s previous energy status quo is not a viable option…
Before Irma’s and María’s devastating pit stops in the Archipelago, Puerto Rico was (and still is, even more so now) undergoing one of the most detrimental financial and socio-political crises of its contemporary history. With an unaudited $74 billion debt under its belt, and $49 billion in pension obligations, with decades of illegal bond issuances and trades and an overly-advertised tax haven, Puerto Rico was/is almost literally drowning.
When the electricity stops in modern civilization, pretty much everything else stops. Not even gasoline-powered vehicles can get far before they are obliged to seek a fill-up—which they cannot get because gas pumps rely on electricity to operate.
We all know one thing that Greece, Cyprus, and Puerto Rico have in common–severe financial problems. There is something else that they have in common–a high proportion of their energy use is from oil.
Puerto Rico’s economy and population are shrinking and the island depends entirely on imported energy sources…maybe these facts made my official audience more receptive than most I’ve encountered.