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Wasserman writes: "Puerto Rico has made history by becoming - briefly - the largest US territory or state to be powered almost entirely by renewable energy."

Puerto Rico's Solartopian moments are big news. (photo: EnergySage)
Puerto Rico's Solartopian moments are big news. (photo: EnergySage)


Puerto Rico Goes Back Door to Solartopia and the Corporate Media Blacks It Out

By Harvey Wasserman, Reader Supported News

21 April 18

 

uerto Rico has made history by becoming — briefly — the largest US territory or state to be powered almost entirely by renewable energy.

The corporate media has done all it can to black the story out.

The rising grassroots movement to totally rebuild Puerto Rico’s electric supply system with renewable energy and locally owned micro-grids poses a serious threat to the centralized, fossil-based corporate elite.

But two hurricanes and two human-error blackouts have opened the door to systemic change.

Here’s how:

Last September, Hurricane Irma blew through the Caribbean, passing over enough of Puerto Rico to plunge tens of thousands of people into darkness. Many of them are still without power.

Then Hurricane Maria shredded the island’s electric grid and blacked out its 3.4 million residents virtually in toto.

The island had two large wind farms, one of which was severely damaged. The other survived, but had no grid through which to distribute its electricity.

Some solar arrays on the island were also severely damaged.

But at a farm in Barranquitas owned by Hector Santiago, 244 solar panels kept some 2,500 light bulbs alight to maximize greenhouse plant growth. Much to the derision of his neighbors, Santiago had invested some $300,000 in the solar array. Small gas and kerosene-fired generators kicked back up around the island. But Santiago’s solar array may well have been its biggest operating power station.

Over the following months, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority tried to restore its rickety poles and wires, plus its network of obsolete gas and oil plants … and the ancient coal plant that burns ore from Colombia.

Along the way, PREPA’s director was fired, and Governor Ricardo Antonio “Ricky” Rosselló Nevares has campaigned to privatize the utility, a move strongly opposed by democracy activists.

On April 8, as PREPA was bringing the island back up to near-total power, restoration workers felled a tree onto live transmission wires, knocking out power to some 850,000 customers.

Ten days later, PREPA proudly announced that it had restored power to 95.8 percent of the island’s population. Some 62,000 customers were still in the dark. But PREPA was proud that each the territory’s 78 municipalities had at least some power.

Literally within hours, Puerto Rico was again plunged into darkness. The same contractor that on April 8 had dropped a tree into the grid now ran an excavator that shorted out the entire system. Once again, Puerto Rico was without central-generated electric power.

But now there was much more solar. In the wake of Irma and Maria, Solartopian activists have poured thousands of photovoltaic panels into the island. Strongly advocating that they become the centerpiece of a rebuilt energy supply system, many collectors now power locally owned micro-grids.

According to Elon Musk, Tesla has helped make 662 locations energy self-sufficient. Key has been San Juan’s Hospital del Nino, which in just two weeks was made energy self-sufficient with panels and batteries.

Nearly all the island’s hospitals were knocked out by Maria. Dialysis machines, operating rooms, air conditioning and other key services went dead. Many still are.

Ironically, according to activist Joel Segal, much of the nation’s supply of pain-killing morphine and Dilaudid also went away, as they are mostly (for tax purposes) manufactured in Puerto Rico.

While referring uniformly to this latest centrally-generated fiasco as a “total” blackout, the corporate media have almost totally ignored this steady, fast-growing stream of power being generated on Puerto Rico, virtually all of it solar.

CNN did cover a local named “Frank,” who after Maria took his home solar with $7500 in system components. Wired has reported on a Brooklyn architect, Andrew Marvel (a grand-nephew of the famed futurist Buckminster Fuller), who plans to use grants of $625,000 for his Resilient Power Puerto Rico to build 25 small arrays with Tesla battery backups. Another 75 or more may follow.

During my California Solartopia show on KPFK-Pacifica in Los Angeles, a listener pledged $20,000 for a neighborhood micro-grid linked with solar panels and batteries.

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Rep. Stacey Plackett (D-Virgin Islands) have asked FEMA to take the island solar. So has San Juan’s progressive mayor, Carmen Yulin Cruz.

But it’s all too hot for the corporate media.

In December PREPA and the New York governor’s office estimated that $17.6 billion was needed to revamp Puerto Rico’s old grid, funds that could instead help take the island totally solar.

To put that in perspective: Governor Andrew Cuomo wants New York ratepayers to fork over $8 billion to keep four decrepit upstate reactors on line, despite their owners’ attempts to close them. Ohio’s FirstEnergy just asked Trump to force ratepayers to fork over $8 billion PER YEAR in “emergency funding” to prop up four more dying nukes and scores of obsolete coal burners.

Ironically, the blacked-out story of Puerto Rico having already inadvertently gone almost entirely solar has opened the brightest window onto a sustainable future.

A Solartopian Puerto Rico would enjoy permanent, reliable service, free of fuel costs and protected from the ravages of the inevitable next storm while avoiding the emissions that would help cause and intensify it.

But a Solartopian Puerto Rico would threaten the Trumpian corporatists who want to “restore” the island’s central, fossil-fired, utterly corrupted grid, which is sure to go down in the next global-warmed hurricane. Or by the next felled tree and errant excavator.

Puerto Rico’s Solartopian moments are big news. So are the solar panels and micro-grids that could help the island survive the next hurricanes (season starts June 1) and corporate wrecking crews.

Let’s keep those panels coming!

To learn more contact me at solartopia.org.



Harvey Wasserman hosts the California Solartopia Show on KPFK-Pacifica Los Angeles 90.7FM and the Green Power & Wellness Show on prn.fm. His America at the Brink of Rebirth: The Life & Death Spiral of US History, from Deganawidah to The Donald is at www.solartopia.org, along with Solartopia! Our Green-Powered Earth..

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.


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+47 # Wise woman 2018-04-21 17:11
This story has made my day!! Way back when, I said that this was the only way for PR to go and now it appears it's happening. All of the Caribbean islands should go the same route. The dirty rich have to go along with their dirty oil, coal and nukes. Thank you Mr. Wasserman! With people like you and all the others who care about this planet, goodness and healing will prevail.
 
 
+31 # Adoregon 2018-04-21 17:28
Full speed ahead with solar.

Just be sure the solar array is well anchored and the panels can all "point" into the wind for least resistance.
 
 
+27 # Robbee 2018-04-21 20:13
the future of pr is solar - one day, no matter how long more expensive fuels get subsidized, pr is going solar!
 
 
+21 # economagic 2018-04-21 20:24
WOW! From the headline I thought this was going to be another tragic story of cooptation by the colonialists. Instead, we find that with some help from First Worlders the indigenes (well, not quite) are gaining their self-determinat ion, their sovereignty, even as the colonialists posture and fume. May this article be the harbinger of further news of redemption and regeneration.
 
 
+17 # dotlady 2018-04-21 20:45
This is a most hopeful story if enough people get behind it and help it unfold!
 
 
+19 # DongiC 2018-04-22 05:23
Kudos to RSN for publishing this timely and highly pertinent article on solar power and Puerto Rico. What a fascinating account of the need for solar as a solution to a very tricky problem: hurricanes becoming more intense as the planet warms and the drawbacks of an energy grid run by fossil fuels.

And, a related problem of corporate dominated media covering up a magnificent solution to the difficult task of supplying energy in a hurricane zone. The solution is so obvious that it can't be kept quiet. Solar power and batteries and whatever else is needed to provide the juice. Progress is being made no matter how reluctantly, the government at the state and national levels looks the other way.

We need a new attitude in government. One that is dedicated to the greatest good for the greatest number. Re the rich, we must break their haughty power, tax them equitably and get their cursed dollars out of the political process. Our democratic way of life depends on it. So does planetary health and salvation.
 
 
+12 # draypoker 2018-04-22 13:26
We should not neglect another important source of energy that can survive hurricanes, and which does not add CO2 to the atmosphere. That is biological energy in the form of biogas. Every farm can grow its own energy while improving the fertility of the soil as a by-product (or indeed the gas can be thought of as a by-product of soil improvement).
 
 
0 # economagic 2018-04-22 20:23
Please explain to me if I am missing something, but to the best of my knowledge burning ANY organic material ("carbon-based life forms")--biodie sel, any kind of alcohol, etc.--is still burning carbon, releasing carbon dioxide in the process. Furthermore, using cropland that could be used to produce food to produce fuel further stresses the global food system.

Now, if by "biogas" you mean ONLY the methane generated by the natural decay of organic matter, that is indeed a different matter entirely. There are various difficulties associated with methane from agricultural waste, especially animal waste, including the difficulty of avoiding leakage of methane into the atmosphere (at least part of which would occur if no effort were made to capture the naturally occurring methane), but they are manageable.

Transfer and conversion of energy at the level of formal thermodynamics really is "rocket science." At more mundane levels it is not so at all, yet the public at large is not well versed in the topic. Many people believe the carbon footprint of electric cars is zero. (Only if the electricity is generated by non-carbon sources.) Many people believe batteries and hydrogen are sources of energy. (Disposable batteries are, but the carbon footprint of their manufacture is fairly large. Otherwise just storage devices to balance production of energy with its use; likewise hydrogen, which is released by passing electrical energy through water, with a net LOSS of energy.)
 
 
0 # economagic 2018-04-25 12:05
(BTW, the article is about the generation of electrical energy, which is essential to "modern civilization." But electrical energy often incurs significant losses when transmitted or transformed to make it "portable" for use in vehicles and for certain other applications. For mobile use some form of liquid or gaseous fuel is more efficient, IF it is not produced by the expenditure of energy in some other form, and IF its combustion does not generate CO2. This is one problem with hydrogen as fuel, as it is generally produced by passing electric current through water. Methane in the form of biogas is great IF it does not contain too much CO2, which would otherwise need to be stripped and sequestered.)
 
 
+4 # draypoker 2018-04-24 10:56
Biogas energy is derived from the carbon absorbed from the atmosphere when the plants are growing. That is, overall the carbon circulates. Fossil fuel adds carbon to the atmosphere when it is burned because, when it was originally incorporated in living materials, it did not circulate but remained stored.

Biogas is actually methane, mixed with CO2, which forms when bacteria work on the carbon containing plant materials. No extra carbon is added, it merely circulates.

When we cease burning fossil fuels - soon, I hope - there will need to be processes which capture carbon and store it again, rebuilding the stores which have diminished in the last 2 centuries.

I have used biogas for several years in Africa. Methane produced in swamps escapes to the atmosphere. Methane produced in digesters is led in pipes and storage vessels to the various places where it can be usefully burned for cooking, lighting and combustion engines. Very little escapes.
 
 
0 # economagic 2018-04-25 08:29
Quite so, as I stated in my second paragraph, including the point that the difficulties with methane from agricultural waste are manageable (i.e., by confining the waste in digester vessels).

Many people have zero background in chemistry and remain blissfully unaware of the distinction between biogas as defined and other forms of biofuels, or of the distinction between energy STORAGE systems and primary energy SOURCES. Not knowing your background I wanted to make those critical distinctions explicit.

The caveat regarding use of crop land to produce fuel still stands, and while growing ANY crop improves the texture of soil, fertility is only enhanced by growing legumes or other plants that fix nitrogen or by turning a cover crop in. There are other crops that bring trace minerals up into the root zone, but the limiting factor is usually nitrogen.
 
 
+1 # solartopia.org 2018-04-25 00:03
thanks for these great comments & thanks to RSN for publishing this piece.

puerto rico's future can be solar, but we will have to fight off the fossil/nuke dinosaurs to get it there.

there are GREAT people working on this on and off the island. lets make it happen!~!!!!
 
 
0 # draypoker 2018-04-25 18:20
Quoting solartopia.org:
thanks for these great comments & thanks to RSN for publishing this piece.

puerto rico's future can be solar, but we will have to fight off the fossil/nuke dinosaurs to get it there.

there are GREAT people working on this on and off the island. lets make it happen!~!!!!


I think Puerto Rico, like many tropical and subtropical areas, can and should get a lot of its energy from biogas, that is agricultural energy. If any of this energy is distributed via pipes they will be buried and immune from hurricanes.
 

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